The role of colour in plant-based meat and EXBERRY solutions

Theresa Wilms, technical sales manager at EXBERRY by GNT, explains how colours made from fruits, vegetables and plants can maximise the appeal of meat alternatives.

Colour plays a crucial role in the success of plant-based products. Consumers instinctively judge food and drink based on whether it matches up to expectations and looks appetising. It’s therefore essential that meat alternatives look like the real thing to give a positive first impression of product quality.

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In the modern market, it is also important to reassure consumers that products are safe and healthy. Manufacturers now rarely use artificial colours in plant-based meat for this reason. Some use spices to deliver colour, but their impact on flavour limits the possibilities to achieve the desired shade and visual appeal. As such, many opt for natural colours such as paprika oleoresin and betanin to achieve the colour effects they want.

We offer hundreds of plant-based EXBERRY colours that can deliver excellent results in all types of meat substitutes. Our portfolio also includes a full spectrum of EXBERRY Colouring Foods. Based on the concept of colouring food with food, they are made from edible fruits, vegetables, and plants using physical processing methods like chopping and boiling. Due to the way they’re made, they offer the ultimate clean-label colouring solution, allowing for simple declarations such as “Concentrate (carrot and beetroot).”

Technical considerations

Plant-based colours can be used to deliver excellent results in all types of food and drink, but they aren’t a plug-and-play solution. There are many technical considerations to bear in mind as the concentrates have varying characteristics, including their colour hues and temperature and pH sensitivities. The colour of the base will also have an impact. For example, pea protein is more yellow than soy so the dosage recommendations will be different.

Selecting the right colours will depend on the desired functionality. There are three main categories of meat and fish alternatives according to the process technology used. Products such as plant-based burgers, meatballs, minced meat, and salmon fillets rely on mincing and mixing. Sausages, cold cuts, ham, and smoked salmon use emulsification. Products such as tuna and chicken pieces use high-moisture texturisation. The pH value is usually around 5 to 7 for all processes, but there can be huge differences in heating requirements. Products produced through mincing and mixing can require temperatures around 80°C. With emulsification, the temperature may need to be 85°C to 95°C for over two hours. With high-moisture texturisation, there is an intense heating step at temperatures above 120°C at high pressure.

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When using reds, pH is a major consideration. The anthocyanin pigments found in red fruits, vegetables, and plants are heat stable but give a more bluish colour shade when the pH is high. Red concentrates made from radish and sweet potato are often a good choice for products such as ham, bacon, and salami alternatives as they can cope better with high pH levels and a high heat processing step. Nonetheless, it’s generally important to try to achieve the lowest possible pH in order to obtain a more reddish colour hue. Using food acids can be quite an easy way to do this and achieve the desired colour shade.

One alternative can be to use beetroot concentrates. They contain betanin pigments, which are not influenced by pH levels and can deliver a nice red shade in products such as plant-based cold cuts. However, betanin is heat-sensitive. The heat sensitivity can be improved by adding ascorbic acid but it isn’t suitable for products that require significant heat treatment.

Realistic colour change

We have vast experience working with plant-based products. This enables us to deliver realistic colouring solutions for applications including burgers, minced meat, sausages, steak, ham, cold cuts, chicken, and pepperoni as well as a vast array of seafood alternatives. We can even help manufacturers create clean-label red meat alternatives that change from a raw to a cooked appearance when heated. It’s possible to do this by blending different fruit and vegetable concentrates that have different colour hues and heat sensitivities. This allows the products to change from red to more of a brown appearance during the cooking process.

We now offer a groundbreaking solution that allows for a major improvement on colour shift. EXBERRY Compound Red is used to help plant-based burgers change from a bloody red appearance while raw to a ‘rare’, ‘medium’, or ‘well-done’ brown when cooked. It’s made with a naturally encapsulated black carrot powder and vegetable oil. The encapsulation melts as the temperature increases during the cooking process and releases the carrot concentrate, producing a significant change in colour similar to that of real red meat.

As the plant-based sector is relatively new, there is still significant ongoing innovation in production methods. We keep up-to-date with all the latest developments and can already deliver effective colouring solutions for many of the latest processing techniques with EXBERRY. We have extensive knowledge of how to overcome all of the most common challenges manufacturers face and will work closely with our customers through every step of the product development process.

In recent years, the meat and fish alternatives on the market have become better and better. The focus has often been on texture and flavour, but consumers eat with their eyes and appearance plays a vital role in purchasing decisions. EXBERRY colours are the perfect choice to deliver a highly realistic appearance along with clean and clear labels.


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