Image showing the color range in plant-based protein

Before we even take the first bite, we rely on our eyes to judge the food in front of us. The color that we eat is extremely important, and it’s why color is a crucial ingredient in plant-based proteins. As the popularity of these products continue to rise, the race is on formulating  products that look and taste good. Unfortunately, it’s easy to miss the mark.

If food companies want consumers to opt for plant-based alternatives, the products must resemble their authentic counterparts in appearance – which is easier said than done, as many factors need to be considered when formulating with color. 

Considerations When Working with Natural Colors in Plant-based

There’s a lot to think about when formulating products using natural colors – including pH, packaging, base color, interaction with other ingredients, temperature and processing conditions, shelf life and storage conditions, to name a few. All these factors can impact stability and performance of natural colors in a particular plant-based application.

Developers also need to consider regulations and certifications required. The permissibility for food color additives is strictly regulated around the world. Raw material sources, applications and acceptable usage rates, and labeling vary from country to country. Local regulations must be referenced when developing food products to ensure that the food color used is allowed.

What should the final product look like? What is the hue of the authentic counterpart in both raw and cooked form? What type of packaging is used? Does it need to be stored in ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperatures? Are oil or water-soluble colors preferred? The answers to these questions are a critical starting point for achieving optimal color in plant-based protein products. 

But that’s not all, the protein base needs to be considered, which means understanding that different proteins have different structures which can translate directly to color variations. For example, beta carotene expresses as a bright yellow in a vital wheat gluten base and as a pale golden yellow in a soy base.  Other ingredients, such as, protein binders, fats and oils, and starches can also impact how color expresses in the final product. Fluctuations in pH levels and water activity during production or cooking at home could impact the end result. pH is an important consideration especially if anthocyanins are used as they can express as blue at high pH levels instead of red. 

Solving the color development puzzle also requires consideration of the processing steps as well as at-home cooking instructions. The time and temperature at which a product is prepared in production may change the color, and whether it’s fried, baked, or microwaved at home could cause color variations too. 

Working with Kalsec

At Kalsec we know that color is at the core of consumer preference, and we can help you get it right. 

We understand the challenges in finding the optimal natural color solution to fit your specific plant-based application. 

With deep color expertise, protein application and regulatory know how, our experienced team recommend tested solutions from our broad portfolio of Vegetone® Natural Colors and Naturebrite® Coloring Foodstuffs, single pigment or blends. 

Our experts can fine-tune color formulations, create custom-made colors to meet your specific hue requirements, and recommend solutions beyond colors. 

Our Natural Color Solutions are clean label and minimally processed pigments made from sustainably and ethically sourced ingredients that enhance plant-based proteins, and deliver superior application performance and stability. Our portfolio comes available in a variety of formats to meet different application, regulatory and certifications needs – liquids, powders, oil and water soluble, oleoresins, Aquaresins, Durabrite®, emulsions, organic, kosher, halal, and non-GMO, among others. 

Our R&D team understand complex protein manufacturing processes and can deliver innovative solutions to stability and performance challenges. 

Contact us to explore how our plant-based color solutions can elevate your brand to new heights.