The FDA’s decision to allow manufacturers to use spirulina extract (from blue-green algae) to color confectionery has given US firms seeking to replace artificial colors more options for creating natural blue, green and violet shades. But what’s it like to work with?
While it is not very stable in some acidic environments and heat stability can be an issue in boiled candies, it works particularly well in panned candy, gummy bears, chewing gum, decorative sugar pastes and compound coatings, according to Naturex business manager Nathalie Pauleau.
Pauleau, who was speaking to FoodNavigator-USA after launching a new palette of liquid, powder, and oil dispersible natural colors based on spirulina extracts for the US market, said: “The acidity issue is more of a challenge the more water there is in the formulation, but for something like gummy bears, it’s not a problem.”
Naturex claims to be the only firm offering colors from spirulina extract that disperse easily in lipophilic formulations such as compound coatings
She added: “You have to look at every application individually. For example, if you want to make a green color by combining spirulina blue with a natural yellow, you might use curcumin [as the yellow component] for one application, but carotenoids for another.
“In Europe, for example, we’ve made some green shades by combining spirulina extract with safflower extract, but you can’t use safflower extract in the US, so we have had to come up with new tailor-made solutions for the US market.”
While several rivals have launched new spirulina-based shades for US customers following the FDA approval (which came into effect on Sept 13), Naturex is the only firm offering colors from spirulina extract (which is water soluble) that disperse easily in lipophilic formulations such as oil-based compound coatings and fillings, claimed Pauleau.
“We are currently the only manufacturer to offer colors made from spirulina extract that incorporate easily in lipophilic formulations like confectionery compound coatings.
"We use a technology called miChroma, which uses a carrier with powdered pigments and effectively decreases the size of the particles. You then have a paste that can be easily dispersed in fat-based coatings and fillings.”
Light blue, blueberry, green apple, deep minty green, intense blackberry and pastel lilac
By combining spirulina extract with other natural pigments, Naturex can offer a wide variety of shades fromlight blue to blueberry, green apple, deep minty green, intense blackberry and pastel lilac, she added. “It’s a good replacement for brilliant blue as you can create some very vibrant shades.”
Although the FDA’s approval for spirulina extract as a color is restricted to gums and candy (petitions are pending to broaden the approval to more food and beverage applications), it opens up a whole new world of possibilities, she said.
“It probably opens up the most opportunities in greens, which represent bigger volumes than blues. Up until now, in the US, the options have been quite limited if you want to create a vibrant natural green.”