Removing Artificial Colors from Breakfast Cereal

By Moira Watson
Published on February 1st, 2018

Consumers today are looking for foods and beverages which are free from artificial color. This has been particularly true in the breakfast cereal category. Using plant-based colors in breakfast cereal while maintaining consumer appeal can present challenges. 

  1. Plant-based colors are often less vibrant then their plant based counterparts.

  2. Plant-based colors can be less stable in the high heat conditions required to produced extruded cereals.

  3. Plant-based colors often contribute undesirable flavors to the cereal.

  4. Substituting plant-based colors for FD&C colors can increase costs.

What makes Edible Glitter different than other color delivery methods?

  1. Shiny vibrant flakes.

  2. Edible glitter is applied to the cereal after the expansion process (or puffing) during the coating process. The plant-based colors avoid the high heat step.

  3. Color is applied to only the outer surface of the cereal; less is used which minimizes flavor impact.

  4. Costs are reduced by coloring only the outer surface of the cereal.

Color impacts our perception of flavor and food quality

The saying goes “we eat with our eyes first” and that is very true. It is hardwired into us. Our ancestors survived for generations because they were able to select the ripe fruits and berries with the most nutrients.  It is still how our brains function today. You can read more about the topic here.

Today’s consumers want food choices that are free from artificial color. However, they have also grown up seeing these same artificial (FD&D) colors in their foods.  These colors form the foundation for their perception of flavor and quality.

The colors referred to as “natural” are often plant-based and are often not as vibrant as their FD&C counterparts. So what makes a color vibrant? Part of the effect is the way it interacts with light. If you take a look at Pantone strip (standards in color reference), you will see either a C or a U. The C stands for coated and the U for uncoated. The coated papery is shiner. Even though the pigment is the same on each strip, they appear different in the C and U form. The color on the coated stock will appear more vibrant.

The same is true for plant-based pigment used in a cereal compared to those used in our Edible Glitter. Edible glitter is made from gum Arabic and a color. The resulting flakes are shiny and very vibrant. This means that colors used in Edible Glitter will be brighter and more appealing.

Edible glitter flakes will adhere to a surface that is moist. They will stick readily to a frosted cereal or with a solution of gum Arabic or similar polymer.

Plant-based colors can be less stable in heat

There are many methods by which cereal can be made. It can be flaked, gun-puffed, extruded and then gun puffed, shredded whole grain, oven-puffed or extruded expanded. In every case there is a step involving a high heat process. For example oven-puffed cereals require temperature in the range of 550 to 650 degrees F. These steps can destroy many of the plant based colors.

After the puffing or baking steps generally comes a cooling step followed by the coating step in which the cereal enters a drum while a sugar syrup solution is sprayed onto it as a coating. It is during this step that Edible Glitter is applied.

After the coating steps comes a final drying step. However, the heat in this step is significantly lower and will have minimal impact on the color.

The key in this process is to apply the plant-based color after the high heat step. Edible Glitter is designed perfectly for this type of application.

Plant-based colors can have objectionable flavor

Some of the plant based colors like turmeric or curcumin, chlorophyll can impart a flavor that is not desirable in cereal. Part of the issue in a traditional system is the entire cereal piece is colored and a lot of the color is required in order to account of loss during the heat step and to provide enough color for the desired impact.

Edible Glitter is applied only to the outer surface of the cereal. Less plant based color us used. Therefore flavor impact in minimized.

Plant based colors are more expensive

By applying the color flakes to the outer surface of the cereal instead of coloring the entire cereal particle, you use less color. This equates to a cost savings.

Learn More in Our Guide to Natural Colors

Find out more about the basics of natural colors, the history of food colors, the benefits of coloring food, and Watson's solutions for plant based colors in our Guide to Natural Colors.