Tag Archives: colors

Popular foods taking on new hues without artificial dyes

Mozzarella cheese at Panera restaurants won’t be as glaringly white.

Banana peppers in Subway sandwiches won’t be the same exact shade of yellow.

Trix cereal will have two fewer colors.

Food makers are purging their products of artificial dyes as people increasingly eschew anything in their food they don’t feel is natural. But replicating the vivid colors Americans expect with ingredients like beets and carrots isn’t always easy.

In fact, General Mills couldn’t find good alternatives for the blue and green pieces in Trix, so the company is getting rid of those colors when the cereal is reformulated later this year. The red pieces — which will be colored with radishes and strawberries — will also look different.

“We haven’t been able to get that same vibrant color,” said Kate Gallager, General Mills’ cereal developer.

The shift away from artificial dyes represents the latest chapter for food coloring in the United States, which has had a rocky history. As recently as 1950, the Food and Drug Administration said children became sick after eating an orange Halloween candy that contained a dye. The agency eventually whittled down its list of approved color additives after finding several had caused “serious adverse effects.”

Now, more companies say they are replacing artificial dyes with colors made from fruits, vegetables and spices, which are widely considered “natural,” although the FDA doesn’t classify them that way.

But these present more challenges than artificial dyes.

In addition to costing more, colors from fruits and vegetables can be sensitive to heat and acidity. And since they’re used in higher doses to achieve boldness, tweaks to other parts of recipes may be needed. Such adjustments can be tricky for companies that manufacture on massive scales.

Still, companies want to court people like Heather Thalwitzer, a 31-year-old homemaker in Melbourne, Florida. Thalwitzer avoids artificial colors because she wants her 6-year-old son to eat quality food and she said red dye has been linked to “mania.”

She has tried alternatives like naturally colored sprinkles from Whole Foods, which her husband thinks taste like fish. But she can get along without such products. One year, she made cupcakes topped with a single blueberry for her son’s birthday.

There are times when Thalwitzer makes exceptions, such as when her son is at a friend’s party.

“I’ll let him have the birthday cake,” she said. “But I’ll cringe.”

THE EVOLUTION OF NATURAL

Part of the challenge with colors from natural sources is that the range of hues has been limited.

Blues, for instance, weren’t widely available the U.S. until 2013. That’s when the FDA approved a petition by candy maker Mars Inc. to use spirulina extract as coloring in gum and candy.

The alga can now also be used in ice creams, drink mixes and other products.

“That was a big thing for us,” said Stefan Hake, CEO of the U.S. division of natural color maker GNT.

At the company’s office in Tarrytown, N.Y., Hake demonstrated how to get blue from spirulina by pouring a liquefied version of it through a coffee filter to isolate the right color components.

The approval of spirulina extract also opened up the world of greens, which can be made by mixing blue and yellow. It turns out plants like spinach brown in heat and aren’t ideal for coloring.

Getting approval for a new color source can take years, but it’s one way companies can fill out their palette of natural hues. In coming weeks, an industry group plans to submit a petition to use the carthamus in safflower for yellow, according to color maker Sensient Technologies.

“It’s just one more that might be another crayon in the crayon box,” said Steve Morris, Sensient’s general manager of food colors for North America.

Sensient also developed a “deodorizing process” to remove flavors from ingredients. That allowed it to introduce an orange for beverages made from paprika.

Morris declined to detail the company’s process. But since the ingredient is not “fundamentally changing the form,” he said the ingredients are still within FDA guidelines of permissible color sources. 

Sensient said three-quarters of its new projects for clients in North America involve natural colors. Globally, its sales of colors — natural and synthetic — comes to about $300 million.

COLORING INSIDE THE LINES

There are seven synthetic colors approved for broad use in foods. But these dyes can be mixed to create a wide range of colors. The colors are made by synthesizing raw materials from petroleum, according to the FDA.

Synthetic colors still dominate in the United States, but some cite a study linking them to hyperactivity in children in calling for them to be phased out. Lisa Lefferts at the Center for Science in the Public Interest also says artificial colors can be used in deceptive ways.

“They mask the absence of ingredients,” she said.

Tropicana’s Twister in Cherry Berry Blast flavor, for instance, list apple and grape juice concentrates, but no cherries or berries. A synthetic color gives it the appearance of having the latter fruits.

Of course, colors also are used to make foods more appealing and send visual signals about the ingredients they contain. Subway says it will stop using a synthetic dye in its banana peppers, but will maintain their bright yellow look with turmeric.

Some say a switch to natural color sources isn’t yet possible because it might turn off customers, although they’re looking into how to change.

“We have to deliver bold colors and flavors, or people will stop buying,” said Will Papa, chief research and development officer at Hershey, which makes Jolly Ranchers, Twizzlers and Reese’s.

Mars, which makes M&M’s and Skittles, said it isn’t yet using the spirulina extract it petitioned to have approved.

Not everyone thinks getting rid of artificial colors hinges on finding exact matches with natural alternatives. Panera is betting people won’t mind that its mozzarella cheese might have a yellowish hue after the removal of titanium dioxide. For cookies with candy-coated chocolates, the natural colors Panera is testing are also duller.

Over time, people will get used to the more muted hues of foods with natural ingredients, said Tom Gumpel, Panera’s head baker.

“You have to remove some of your expectations,” he said.

Blue and black or gold and white? Debate goes viral over colors in dress

It’s the dress that’s beating the Internet black and blue. Or should that be gold and white?

Friends and co-workers worldwide are debating the true hues of a royal blue dress with black lace that, to many an eye, transforms in one photograph into gold and white. Experts are calling the photo a one-in-a-million shot that perfectly captures how people’s brains perceive color and process contrast in dramatically different ways.

“This photo provides the best test I’ve ever seen for how the process of color correction works in the brain,'” said Daniel Hardiman-McCartney, the clinical adviser to Britain’s College of Optometrists. “I’ve never seen a photo like before where so many people look at the same photo and see two sets of such dramatically different colors.”

The photo, taken earlier this month before a wedding on the remote Scottish island of Colonsay, also illustrates the dynamics of a perfect social-media storm. Guests at the wedding could not understand why, in one photo of the dress being worn by the mother of the bride, the clearly blue and black-striped garment transformed into gold and white. But only in that single photo, and only for around half of the viewers.

The debate spread from the wedding to the Internet, initially from friend to perplexed friend on Facebook.

One such wedding guest, musician and singer Caitlin McNeill, posted the photo Thursday night to her Tumblr account with the question: “Guys please help me. Is this dress white and gold, or blue and black? Me and my friends can’t agree and we are freaking the (expletive) out.” She’s consistently seen gold.

One of her friends, Alana MacInnes, saw gold and white for the first hour, then black and blue.

Buzzfeed sensed clickbait heaven and, amid its own newsroom argument, was among the first to call McNeill. It posted more than a half-dozen stories on the image and the tsunami of reaction.

On Twitter, (hash)TheDress and variants surged to the top of trending lists globally within hours.

The entertainment elite then chimed in.

Taylor Swift saw the dress was “obviously” blue and black. “What’s the matter with u guys, it’s white and gold,” countered Julianne Moore. Kim Kardashian, never one to miss a trending topic, reported she was seeing gold but to husband Kanye West, it was solidly black and blue. “Who is color blind?” Kardashian asked the twitterati.

The answer, says Hardiman-McCartney, is that every viewer seeing either set of colors is right.

He says the exceptional bar-code style of the dress, combined with the strongly yellow-toned backlighting in the one photo, provides the brain a rare chance to “choose” which of the dress’ two primary colors should be seen in detail.

Those who subconsciously seek detail in the many horizontal black lines convert them to a golden hue, so the blue disappears into a blown-out white, he said.

Others whose brains focus on the blue part of the dress see the photo as the black-and-blue reality.

“There’s no correct way to perceive this photograph. It sits right on the cusp, or balance, of how we perceive the color of a subject versus the surrounding area,” he said. “And this color consistency illusion that we’re experiencing doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your eyes. It just shows how your brain chooses to see the image, to process this luminescence confusion.”

The photo produced a deluge of media calls Friday to the Tumblr reporter, 21-year-old McNeill, who calls the seemingly endless phone calls “more than I’ve received in the entirety of the rest of my life combined.” She says the photographer, who is also the mother of the bride, never wanted the publicity.

There’s one clear winner: English dress retailer Roman Originals, which has reported a million hits on its sales site in the first 18 hours following the photo’s worldwide distribution.

“I can officially say that this dress is royal blue with black lace trimming,” said Michele Bastock, design director at Roman Originals.

She said staff members had no idea that the dress, when shot in that singularly peculiar light, might be perceived in a totally different color scheme. Not until Friday anyway, when they arrived at work to field hundreds of emails, calls and social media posts. They, too, split almost 50-50 on the photo’s true colors.

All agreed, however, the dress for the Birmingham, England-based retailer was likely to become their greatest-ever seller. The chain’s website Friday headlined its product as “(hash)TheDress now back in stock – debate now.”

“Straightaway we went to the computers and had a look. And some members of the team saw ivory and gold. I see a royal blue all the time,” she said. “It’s an enigma … but we are grateful.”

 

Ask a Designer: 2014 decor trends

With a new year come new trends in home design and decorating. Among them: paler walls contrasted with colorful furniture, and plenty of personal expression, design experts say.

COOLEST COLORS

Whisper-soft, ultra-pale shades of pink _described by designers as “blush tones” — are back. But the 1980s haven’t returned, says designer Brian Patrick Flynn says, at least not entirely.

“What’s different about blush this time around is what it’s paired with. In 1985, you’d find it paired with mauve and black with tons of shiny brass accents. Flash forward to today and blush is likely to be paired with preppy, masculine tones,” says Flynn, founder of Flynnside Out Productions.

His favorite blush paint is Barely Blush from Glidden, which he contrasts with navy blue: “The deep, rich personality of the navy actually washes out the blush, almost causing it to look white, and the overall effect is fresh and gorgeous.”

Speaking of white walls, Los Angeles-based designer Betsy Burnham sees those coming back in a big way.

“I used to think white walls looked unfinished,” she says. “But I’ve completely come around on this one, because white is the ultimate palette cleanser.ßIt gives every space — even the most traditional — a modern edge, and sets the stage wonderfully for layers of color in upholstery, accessories, area rugs and art.”

But while wall colors are getting softer and paler, the opposite seems to be happening with furniture.

“Strong colors on upholstery are becoming more of the norm,” says Kyle Schuneman, founder of Live Well Designs, who spent a chunk of 2013 designing his first line of furniture, in collaboration with retailer Apt2B.

He opted to create sofas in bright blues and shades of orange because “a bright sofa is no longer just for a creative office waiting room,” he says. “People are bringing them into their homes.”

One bold color to approach carefully this year: red-violet. “Red-violet is the Pantone color of the year for 2014,” Flynn says. “As a designer whose specialty is using color, let me tell you something: Red-violet is about as complex as it gets.”

“My trick for using it right is pairing it with black, white and brass,” he says. “It’s not all that overwhelming, since it’s balanced by the neutrality of the black and white, and made a bit more chic and regal with the brass.”

TOP TEXTURES

“For accessories, the trend seems to be getting away from color and going more into rich textures like horn, aged metallics and linens,” Schuneman says. “The absence of color is becoming chic for smaller items.”

One texture Flynn says will have a big moment in 2014: felt.

“Have you looked at Pinterest lately? It’s like every fifth photo you see involves felt! Ever since the handmade movement kicked in back in 2010, felt has been used in unexpected ways and in a modern fashion,” Flynn says. “What makes it such a favorite for designers is how easy it is to work with. It’s amazing for door upholstery due to its stiffness. It makes for awesome craft material, since it’s easy to cut and stitch, and it’s awesome for kids.”

An easy project for even the DIY-challenged: “I modernized the classic kindergarten felt wall in a boy’s room by covering a wall with batting, then literally upholstering it with white and blue felt, then cutting tons of felt into random objects and characters to give the kids something interactive and stylish.”

FRESH INSPIRATIONS

“The idea of personalization is becoming stronger and stronger,” Schuneman says. “People are wanting their homes to reflect a more unique perspective.”

So rather than assuming that everyone will be buying the same popular items, “stores are doing limited runs on items more often, like art in series or a special brand collaboration for just a season,” he says.

Burnham agrees. Homeowners are increasingly looking to “large-scale wall hangings” and other pieces of art to express themselves, she says, rather than doing it with bold wall color.

“Boy, am I sick of accent walls.ßI really believe that trend is out!ßI vote for art every time,” Burnham says.ß“If you’re looking for something to cover big, blank areas,ßshop on Etsy for macrame pieces. They add such wonderful texture to your walls, and artists like Sally England have brought them back into vogue.”

She also recommends hunting for vintage posters that speak to you. Find them through online dealers and auction houses, and then frame them in a group.ß

“While the vintage ones are a bit of an investment,” Burnham says, “they can be a lot more reasonably priced than large-scale paintings and photographs.”

Another way Americans are increasingly customizing their space, according to Flynn: Western-inspired dΘcor.

“For years I’ve seen taxidermy make its way into mainstream design, yet reinvented in new ways. Lately, I’ve been looking to Ralph Lauren-like cabins of the Western United States for inspiration in my own home. I think a lot of cabin-inspired colors such as pea greens, hunter greens and camouflage-inspired prints will become super popular.”

Flynn’s cabin in the north Georgia mountains is currently decorated in pea green and accented with heavy, masculine fabrics, Western hats and antlers.

TACKLING AWKWARD SPACES

“Tons of new-construction homes have awkward bonus rooms” that homeowners aren’t sure how to furnish, Flynn says.

One suggestion: “Why not turn that space into an extra sleeping area that can accommodate multiple guests, but in a super-stylish, architectural manner? That’s where the art of built-in bunks comes in,” Flynn says.

“I turned a dated attic into a bunk room and play space for two young brothers by using one wall as floor-to-ceiling, mid-century-style bunks. This isn’t exactly cheap to do, but it’s well worth the investment since it maximizes space and adds an architectural focal point, albeit one that’s functional, to otherwise dead space.”