Natural colors


Food color is any material can be added to change food and beverage colors. It uses in food production with domestic and commercial purposes. Colors for the food and beverage industry have been divided into four major groups include Natural, Synthetic, Natural Identical and Inorganic colors.
Natural colors obtain from pigments, dye, substances or any combination of a variety of plants, vegetables, roots, fruits, seeds, insects, animals, minerals, etc. Recently, there is an upward tendency for using natural colors among the people; they are more interested in using natural dyes in textile, crafts, food and beverage industry, etc.
One of the most important natural colors are Carotenoids, this type of natural color produces about 100 million tons annually. Saffron, fruit and vegetable juices, carrot oil, paprika, riboflavin, etc. are among natural
Synthetic or artificial colors are the colors that are made by chemical substances and have banned by many countries since they can cause so many problems to different body organs.
Natural identical colors are those found in nature and are made by the human; for example, riboflavin, carotene, and canthaxanthin.
The sources of deriving natural dyes include plants, minerals, insects and animals; among all of these resources, plants are more suitable because of their medicinal properties; they include leaves, petals, flowers, roots, berries, etc. The color preparation process has been improved since the suppliers motivated to develop the properties of extracting colors from the plants. They can give a spectrum of colors from red, orange, yellow, green and blue. The orange color comes from plants like Crocus Sativus (saffron stigma). Saffron has different properties and many constituents so it can be used in medicine, cosmetics, food and beverage, textile dye and in perfumery.
The saffron botanical name is Crocus Sativus which belongs to the Iridaceae family. It is used for many purposes and mostly is known as a spice around the world. The saffron stigma (the red part of this plant) dried and then converted into powder when it is used in the food industry, it is also known as the world’s most expensive spice. Saffron as a plant that grows in autumn is a unique product with a special aroma, taste, and color. There are many chemicals in saffron stigma; the most important saffron constituents include Crocin, Crocetin, Picrocrocin, and Safranal. Aqueous saffron extract is water soluble and has a bright yellow color. The yellow-orange color of saffron stigma is caused by one of the main components of saffron called Crocin which is responsible for the saffron color. Because of saffron antibacterial properties, it was used in Persian traditional medicine as a treatment of different skin disorders. For centuries, saffron stigma is a rich natural source of carotenoids, so it can be used as a food color.
Nowadays, Saffron color is used for dyeing silk, wool, and cotton as in the past. The yellow color extracted from saffron which is easily water-soluble can be used in the cosmetic industry and in the formulation of hair care products, body lotions, moisturizing creams, hair shampoos, perfumes, liquid soaps, and sunscreen creams. Not only saffron stigma is used for its yellow color, but also the saffron petals which are a waste part of the flower can be used to dye fabric; a light greenish yellow and green color is produced by the saffron petal extract.

Comparison between natural and synthetic colors:

Because of consumer concerns about the side effects of synthetic colors, using natural colors are being commercially improved, recently.
As mentioned above, natural colors cause fewer problems for the body organs in comparison with artificial colors. Different body organs can be protected by natural colors; for example, heart diseases will reduce by using carrots and sweet potatoes since the orange color of these materials decrease the blood cholesterol level and the risk of heart attack. The risk of various cancers (especially prostate cancer) and heart problems can lower by using tomato. Natural food colors especially saffron stigmas contain an antioxidant which is proper for preventing cancer, aging, heart diseases and different problems in the body.
Natural food colors might not be appropriate for some sensitive people since they cause allergic reactions and shock but those reactions are rare. Some of the drawbacks of natural colors are heat, light instability and oxidizing; the listed items indicated that why synthetic colors are still popular in the food industry.


In the past, the only sources were used for coloring were plants, animals, insects, and minerals. The first dye substances used in prehistoric times were extracted from roots, barks, blossoms, and berries. China is the first country in using natural colors, and European countries are the first in adding them to food. Egyptian Candy makers added natural extracts to improve how they look.
Natural colors have been used for many purposes of coloring and painting different agents from ancient times. In that time people used to add colors to food and beverage, cosmetics and drugs. It helps people enjoy more of something they use; many studies demonstrated that using colors can influence the human appetite in choosing the food; the food quality can be affected by texture, flavor, colors, and appearance in the customer’s point of view. Most of the natural food colors come from different spices; saffron is one of the spices which can give natural yellow color, flavor, and taste to various foods.
The first synthetic dye was discovered by Sir William Henry Perkin as the first synthetic color developer in 1856. This discovery caused synthetic products used instead of natural dyes, completely. Synthetic color products derived from petroleum and coal at the beginning of the 19th century.

Pros and cons:

Nowadays, using natural colors is increasing for protecting the environment from pollution by industries. Moreover, there has been an increasing interest in using natural products. Natural colors are gotten from plants, animals, and vegetables without any chemical processing.
In spite of some disadvantages of synthetic colors in comparison with natural colors, they can be effective for some reasons such as great brilliance, low pollution, washability, a high stability to light, oxygen and pH, light fastness, fewer production expenses, etc. they also offered all imaginable color shade. The most known natural dyes lack the mentioned features.


A usual question always asked: “why color additives should be added in different food and beverage?” the first answer is they can help to whet people’s appetite for desiring more food, the food appearance shows the taste and flavor; because colors have an important role on raising the food quality. Stimulating and whetting the appetite by color is a strategy some restaurants use. Sometimes colors may discourage and stop people from eating. That’s why marketing specialists work on the effect of colors and how they influence customer decisions on purchasing products or services. Some countries especially Japan and all European countries banned using and trading synthetic color additives in products.
There is an upward tendency all over the world and in some developed countries for using natural food colors in novel products such as printing, crayons, toys, paper, etc. Natural colors can adapt more to the environment and can show more biodegradability. The people awareness of pharmaceutical and therapeutic features and the advantages of different substances has been also increased. Recently, the toxicity and different disadvantages of synthetic colors have been recognized too. There is an increasing demand about how to prepare and extract different colors from natural resources and their applications in the food industry and doing this process is challenging.


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