Natural colors are equally challenging. Many synthetic colors have been replaced with natural ones in recent years, but blue was one of the last because of its unique difficulty – it doesn't occur often in nature. Indigotine (a.k.a. Blue No. 2), which once gave blue M&Ms their vivid, brilliant hue, is a synthetic version of the plant-based indigo, which has a history as a textile dye. Blue No. 1 or "brilliant blue," originally was derived from coal tar and is now made from an oil base. Consequently, both are often replaced. The FDA requires they be listed by name on ingredients decks.
But a milestone was reached in 2013 with the help of Mars. The FDA approved a petition from Mars to use spirulina as a blue color source, although only for use in candies and chewing gum (it has since been approved for other food uses). The algae-like bacteria already had been used as a colorant and food additive around the globe. It's particularly effective at creating blue shades, so a number of colorant companies immediately began developing blues based on spirulina.
ADM’s Wild Flavors has a patented process for a natural blue color ingredient provides a blue that's acid- and heat-stable. "This plant-based ingredient is sourced close to the Amazon river," Rainey points out. "Colors derived from nature rather than synthetic sources are a big trend."
While the 2015 Dietary Guidelines didn't come down on salt as hard as some feared, it's still an ingredient most processors are working to reduce. Reducing rather than replacing salt is best for many recipes. Salt equals taste and functionality. For thousands of years, it enhanced food and beverage flavor, structure and performance.
Nestle, Campbell Soup, General Mills and others have eagerly responded to the FDA’s voluntary draft guidance on sodium reduction and the updated Dietary Guidelines, which recommend that Americans reduce sodium intake to 2,300mg/day, down from levels of 3,400mg/day. Increased sodium intake is linked to high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and stroke.
Ingredient cost is always a major factor, the experts agree, and salt is possibly the least expensive ingredient to use, making processors reluctant to switch. But as long as some portion of consumers are concerned about sodium's connection to hypertension, some processors will reformulate. And many processed foods have a well-deserved reputation for being heavy on salt.
"Potassium chloride is a popular alternative, but has taste and label challenges that prevent it from being a comprehensive replacement," Bell's Graham says. "We help formulators mitigate negative bitter and metallic tastes using flavor modifiers like ReduxSo."