Artificial Vs. Natural Color: What Makes Sense for Your Next Product?

 In Beverage Development, Blog

Drinking a beverage is a multi-sensory experience, starting with sight. Consumers associate the color of a beverage primarily with taste profile, but depending on color intensity it can also flag a product as being artificial.

Artificial colors are a weighty concern for some consumers, so beverage makers need to decide early on what kind of colorants they want to incorporate into their beverage. This is especially true for formulating clean label beverages.


Here is an overview of what to consider when choosing between natural or artificial colors:

  • “Artificial colors,” more accurately referred to as certified colors by the FDA, are man-made and petroleum-based. Examples of certified colors are synthetic dyes like blue #1, yellow #5, and red #40. Benefits of using certified colors include that they are less expensive, have a longer shelf life, and can withstand manufacturing conditions like heat, shear, and oxygen exposure. Because artificial colors most likely won’t affect taste and will maintain their intensity longer than natural colors, they can be added to a formula towards the end of the beverage development process.

  • “Natural colors,” or colors that are exempt from certification, come from natural sources such as vegetables, minerals, or animals. There are twenty-six exempt from certification colorants including dehydrated beet and purple carrot for purple, chlorophyll for green, spirulina or blue algae for blue, and carmine, made from cochineal scale, for red. Colors that are exempt from certification are an important component of clean label products. Therefore, it’s important to understand how certain ingredient modifications will impact the product, and to make a decision about using colors that are exempt from certification at the beginning of the beverage development process. These types of ingredients can be a little more challenging to formulate with because they are more sensitive to fading due to heat and light, require refrigeration, and can affect the taste of a product.  Despite these challenges, there are certainly methods to protect the integrity of the product when formulating with these colors, like using masking agents and packaging with a UV barrier.
  • Most beverages are colored artificially with natural or synthetic colors to maintain the color intensity consumers have come to expect. That is, consumers are trained from an early age to believe that color represents the flavor profile, authenticity of ingredients, freshness and overall quality of a beverage. For that reason, it’s important to consider appearance and source of colorants to achieve the ideal experience for your target consumer.

    If you have additional questions about color, or want to develop a beverage with color, email us at to talk to our beverage experts.