Natural colours & colouring foodstuffs

What are Colouring Foodstuffs?

Colouring Foodstuffs are food ingredients used by the food industry for the primary purpose of imparting colour to food and beverage products.

They are manufactured from fruits, vegetables, flowers, spices, algae and/or other edible source materials. Colouring Foodsuffs are considered ‘Clean-Label’ ingredients, and offer an alternative to using colours as food additives in a wide variety of food applications. They appeal to producers/customers who want a food product which is based on ingredients that consumers can easily relate to.

The criteria for a food extract with colouring properties to be classified as Colouring Foodstuffs (and not as food colour additive) are:

  • The primary extract is added during the manufacturing of compound foods with the primary effect to deliver colour to the compound food. If the primary extract is used because of its aromatic, sapid or nutritive properties together with a secondary colouring effect, the primary extract is either a food or a flavouring;
  • The source material must be a food or a characteristic ingredient of food which is normally consumed as such within the EU;
  • The pigments present in the source material must NOT undergo selective, physical and/or chemical extraction relative to the nutritive and aromatic constituents. 

Where a Colouring Food is used in a food product, its function is not required on the labelling. Instead it is listed as an ingredient. For example: “Fruit and Vegetable Extracts (Radish Concentrate, Apple Concentrate, Blackcurrant Concentrate)”

These criteria are defined in the EU Guidance notes on the classification of food extracts with colouring properties (29.11.2013, Version 1), which was adopted by the European Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health.

The Guidance Notes provide a working tool for business operators and enforcement authorities to consider whether a substance is a food colour additive or a “Colouring Food”. The EU Guidance Notes include a decision tree (Annex I) and a checklist (Annex II) to facilitate the classification. The reference values for the source materials (Annex III) remain to be completed and NATCOL continues to support this work.

Labelling of Colouring Foodstuffs must be in accordance with Food Information Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011. The labelling needs to be clear and understandable to the consumer and should not be misleading. However, the labelling must be assessed case-by-case by the food manufacturer. Possible labelling on the ingredient list of the final food within the EU are for example “Colouring Food (Carrot Concentrate)” or “Red Beet Concentrate”.

Colouring Foodstuffs do not need to be designated like food colour additives, i.e. by the name of their category “Colour” and an E-number.


Natural Colours used in the food industry originate from a wide range of sources like vegetables, fruits, plants, minerals and other edible natural sources. They impart colour when added to food or drink.

Natural Colours are preparations obtained from foods and other edible natural source materials obtained by physical and/or chemical extraction, resulting in a selective extraction of the pigments relative to the nutritive or aromatic constituents.

The use and labelling of Natural Colours colours as food additives is governed by the EU Legislation 1334/2008. Where a Natural Colour is used, its function must be declared on the product labelling. For example, ‘Colour: E160a’ or ‘Colour: Beta Carotene’. Natural Colours tend to have higher concentrations of the active pigments meaning a more intense colour, as well as being more stable in a wider variety of applications.


Years of experience in the Natural Colours sector combined with a development team curious to explore how the stability and performance of colours can be enhanced means that Plant-Ex has a knowledge base which is unrivalled in the industry.

The creation of micro-milled pastes, beverage-stable emulsions and bespoke spray-dried powders are some of the specialised products that the team has created.

Colouring Foodstuffs also comprise a large proportion of the portfolio supplied by Plant-Ex, meaning that the colours division are ready to offer a complete selection of options to customers, regardless of the application.


natural colour portfolio


colouring foodstuff - clean label declaration


Trumeric with yellow background

Click on a colour swatch to download the colour technical guide.

Curcumin E100

Curcumin is a naturally occurring pigment extracted from the roots of the Turmeric plant Curcuma longa, a member of the ginger family

Lutein E161b

Lutein is a yellow-orange, oil-based pigment extracted from the flowers of the Marigold plant Tagetes erecta.


Safflower, also known as Carthamus, is a water-based colour extracted from the plant Carthamus tinctorius.


carrots with orange background

Paprika E160c

Paprika oleoresin is an oil-based extract with a high concentration of Capsanthin and Capsurobin; these pigments are part of the Carotenoid family and responsible for the bright orange and red colours.

Carotenes E160a

E160a (i) Synthetically derived Beta Carotene - E160a (ii) Mixed Carotenes from plant and vegetable sources, typically Palm derived - E160a (iii) Fungal derived Beta Carotene by fermentation of Blakeslea trispora - E160a (iv) Algal derived Carotene from Dunaliela salina

Annatto E160b Bixin (i), Norbixin (ii)

Annatto is a food colour derived from the seeds of the Achiot e tree Bixa orellana. In some parts of the world, Annatto is used for its mild spicy flavour, as well as its intense orange-red colour.


Red cabbage with red background

Carmine E120

Primarily grown in South America, Carmine is a bright pink-red colour derived from the female Cochineal beetle Dactylopius coccus, a parasite that feeds on the Prickly Pear cactus.

Red Beet

Red Beet is a natural colour made from the juice of Red Beetroots Beta vulgaris, and is used to create vibrant pink to red shades in food and beverage applications. The pigment in Red Beet responsible for its colour is called Betanin.


Red Cabbage

Botanical source – Brassica oleracea. Extracted from the leaves of the plant; Red Cabbage Concentrate is used to produce a reddish pink hue in acidic applications, turning blue in neutral applications. Labelling Declaration: Red Cabbage Concentrate.

Black Carrot

Botanical source – Daucus carota. A root vegetable cultivated primarily in Turkey; Black or Purple Carrot produces a deep red colour and has a wider pH range than some Anthocyanins. Labelling Declaration: Black/Purple Carrot Concentrate.

Grape skin

Botanical source – Vitis vinefera. Anthocyanins extracted from the left-over skins of Grapes used in the winemaking process, Grapeskin colour produces a dark, berry-like red colour in acidic applications. Labelling Declaration: Colour (Anthocyanins), Colour: E163.

Purple Sweet Potato

Botanical source – Ipomoea batatas. Native to the Americas, the Purple Sweet Potato is used to produce a vibrant pink colour in acidic applications, turning purple-violet in more neutral applications. It has good heat stability and is stable over a wider pH range. Labelling Declaration: Purple Sweet Potato Concentrate.


Botanical source – Sambucus. Juice harvested from the berries is used to create a reddish-purple hue in acidic food applications. Labelling Declaration: Elderberry Concentrate.


Botanical source – Raphanus raphinstrum. A root vegetable cultivated in Asia; Radish produces a bright red-orange colour in low pH, turning pinker in neutral applications. Labelling Declaration: Radish Concentrate.




Spirulina blue is derived from Arthrospira platensis, a type of Blue-Green algae known as Cyanobacteria. Spirulina is very high in vitamins and minerals - it's used as a health supplement as well as a Colouring Foodstuff in the food industry. With very few existing natural blue shades, Spirulina is a widely used option for achieving Clean-Label blue, green and violet shades.



Chlorophyll E140

Chlorophyll is a natural pigment responsible for the green colour of many plants and algae. It is primarily sourced from plants such as Grass, Spinach & Alfalfa.

Copper Complexes of Chlorophyllin E141 (i)

Copper Chlorophyllin is a semi-synthetic derivative of Chlorophyll, selectively extracted from Chlorophyll and reacted with Copper to create a dark green water-soluble pigment.

Sodium Copper Chlorophyllin E141 (ii)

Sodium Copper Chlorophyllin is a semi-synthetic derivative of Chlorophyll. It is selectively extracted from Chlorophyll and reacted with Sodium salts, creating a dark green water-soluble pigment with excellent heat and light stability. It is widely used in the confectionery industry for its intense and rich green colour.


Caramel , maple or honey dripping on waffles

Burnt Sugar E150a

Burnt Sugar is a Caramel formed by the controlled heating of food sugars without the addition of other ingredients. Utilising the Maillard Reaction, Burnt Sugar is used to produce brown shades in a range of applications, while adding a subtle, Caramel flavour.


For more intense, darker shades of brown, it is possible to use Caramel Colours, which are produced from food sugars and reacted with various stabilising ingredients to enhance the colour intensity and stability.



Carbon Black E153

Carbon Black is a black colour produced through the burning of plant material such as Coconut Shells and Peat. It is commonly used in the food industry for colouring confectionery products, such as Liquorice. The colouring power of Carbon Black is determined by particle size: by finely milling the pigment, the intensity of the colour can be increased while also lowering the dosage. Carbon Black is extremely heat and light stable, and its available in liquid and paste formats.


white powder

Titanium Dioxide

Titanium Dioxide is a naturally occurring white colour used in the food industry to increase the visual appeal, optical brightness and texture. It can also act as a base coat in panned confectionery and chewing gum. Titanium Dioxide is water insoluble and is processed into liquids and pastes using high sheer milling techniques to reduce the small particle size and increase the whiteness of the colour. It has excellent heat and light stability.

Calcium Carbonate

Calcium Carbonate is a naturally occurring white colour derived from Calcite rich rocks, such as Limestone, Chalk and Marble. It is used in the food industry to increase the visual appeal, optical brightness and texture. Calcium Carbonate is an excellent source of dietary Calcium. With the market slowly phasing out the use of Titanium Dioxide due to nano-particulates and carcinogenic effects, we have been working on replacing the colour with Calcium Carbonate. In order to achieve the same colouring affect as Ti02, you need to use roughly 10x the dosage. Calcium Carbonate has excellent heat and light stability, however it is not stable in acidic pH.


Colours are products that are derived from natural sources, such as herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables.