Colouring and flavouring sugar and chocolate

Technical Editor, Clay Gordon, explores the world of colouring and flavouring and how this impacts the production of chocolate and other sugary sweets 

If you happen to work in new product development (NPD) for a large confectionery company, chances are there is an entire group of trained and experienced food scientists working with you whose job it is to know obscure – but extremely important – food science-y stuff that is critical to developing tasty and visually appealing confections that are also safe to eat. You may even be a trained food scientist yourself. This article may seem remedial to you. 

Even if you don’t have the luxury of access to trained food scientists, you still need to produce tasty, visually appealing products that are safe to eat. This article is going to focus on colour and flavour – we’ll cover food safety in a future article – and it is written from the perspective of a new member of a small NPD group whose expertise may be consumer marketing and who does not possess a strong technical understanding of the chemistry of colouring and flavouring ingredients. Furthermore, this person is being brought in as a part of a decision to replace all artificial/synthetic flavouring and colouring chemicals with natural versions. 

Understanding fundamental principles makes it possible to converse knowledgeably with other members of the product development team and makes it possible to communicate clearly and effectively with members of the marketing and sales teams and to customers. 

The process of choosing the right flavour or colouring option begins by working backwards from an understanding of the desired characteristics of the finished product – irrespective of whether it is sugar confectionery, chocolate confectionery, a baked item, or a combination of elements. 

The first step is to consider organoleptic and shelf life considerations including the intensity of the flavour/colour in the finished item; light stability; the optical properties of the finished item, i.e. is it transparent, translucent, clear, cloudy, or opaque; other ingredients in the recipe that could affect, or be affected by, the choice of flavour or colour; target pH of the finished product; labelling requirements; certification requirements – organic, Kosher, Halal, Vegetarian/Vegan, non-GMO; and other criteria. And let’s not forget branding considerations enter into this understanding as well. 

Once the above parameters have been sketched out, the next step is to factor in the production and processing steps. These include time, including the order and timing in which ingredients are to be added into the recipe in production; processing temperatures – heating and cooling; and the actual processing methods being used such as UHT, aeration, boiling, extrusion, etc. 

Knowing the desired characteristics of the final product and how it will be manufactured, the next step is to consider the characteristics of the flavouring or colouring itself – what is the preferred format and other characteristics? Does it need to be water or oil soluble? Is it best introduced in liquid or powdered form? What is the pH of the ingredients it will be added to? And finally, what is the target cost structure of the finished product, from COGS and gross margin through distribution to the price on the retail shelf. 

“One of the areas that needs special attention,” according to Giles Drewett, MD of Plant-Ex Ingredients (UK), “is when formulating products like nutrition supplements. It’s important to take into account the fact that not only could ingredients in the base recipe – including flavouring and colouring ingredients – have an effect on the bioavailability of the active ingredients, but they can also have a negative impact on the stability (shelf life) of the colour and flavour of the final product”. 

Some raw ingredients, extraction, and processing methods result in colour and flavour options that are inherently more stable than others, and these properties must be carefully matched with the other ingredients in the recipe and the processing methods employed with an eye towards food safety and labelling regulations. For many raw ingredients, whether they be essential oils or plant/fruit/vegetable juice concentrates, there are processing ingredients and methods that can be utilised in combination to deliver a flavouring or colouring that will meet the technical and other requirements for any given product’s recipe. 

“There are some pigments – such as those classified as anthocyanins – which are much more comfortable in an acidic pH and the majority of anthocyanins are reasonably heat stable”, continued Giles. “If you’re looking to make a red sugar candy, for example, anthocyanin pigments are obvious choices, it’s just a matter of the shade of red. Purple carrot actually has a nice strawberry-red shade, where red cabbage has more of a bluish-red shade. The pigment from red beets is stable in neutral pH, so it could be usable as the colouring in a strawberry-flavoured marshmallow. But the moment the red beet colouring goes above about 70C it starts to denature and turn brown, so for a boiled sugar candy product like a lollipop, red beet would not be a candidate”. 

Read the full feature here.

Media Contact
Editor, International Confectionery
Tel: +44 (0) 1622 823 922

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