Although the US Food and Drug Administration lists caramel color as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS), the agency is currently reviewing all available data on the safety of 4-MEI, found in caramel colors, and is reassessing potential consumer exposure to 4-MEI from the use of Class III and Class IV caramel coloring in food products. This, along with actions such as the California Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to add 4-MeI to its list of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer, are making caramel colors less desirable as an ingredient.
This is playing into the hands of Sunsweet Ingredients, whose Amazing Plum ingredients offer a clean label substitute for these colors.
“We are receiving strong interest in our products as replacements for caramel coloring. Our products are whole-food ingredients and appear as such on the label; for example, dried plum puree is labeled ‘dried plum puree’, and plum juice concentrate is labeled ‘plum juice concentrate’,” Tom Leahy, representative of Sunsweet, told ConfectioneryNews.
No flavour negatives
Despite being derived from fresh and dried plums, prune powder or concentrate would be used at a level low enough so as not to impart a prune flavor, said Leahy
“Also, the general flavor profile of our ingredients is mild, so even used at a significant level in a recipe they tend to enhance other flavors rather than impart their own flavor. For example, in dark chocolate ganache made with a good portion of prune you are unlikely to pick up any prune flavor,” he added.
As well as being a potential caramel color substitute, Amazing Plum can assist with nutritional improvement of confectionery products, according to Sunsweet.
“Our ingredients can increase fiber levels while reducing the need for added sugars and sodium. They have 50% more fiber but 50% less sugar than raisins and dried cranberries, and the glycemic index is 19, the lowest among all dried fruits,” he said.
Their ability to reduce sugar, sodium and calories stems from a naturally high sorbitol content which provides sweetness without added sugar, as well as high acidity (1.5% - mostly malic and quinic).
“A good portion of the sweetness of our products is derived from natural sorbitol, a sugar alcohol which is not digested and therefore not included in the calorie count on labels. Also, the caramelized flavor of our ingredients melds well with very dark chocolate, allowing for chocolate products with lower calories and sugar,”explained Leahy.
This lends the plum ingredients to inclusion in chocolate or yogurt coated confectionery similar to ‘raisinettes’. Sunsweet has its own retail range of ‘plum sweets’, which can now be found in about 50% of US retail outlets.
Besides chocolate, other natural partners for the plum ingredients in confectionery applications are spices such as ginger, pepper, cloves and cinnamon, according to Leahy. However, he explained that pairings outside of this realm would not work as well due to both taste and color.