Instrumental Color Analysis Ensures Military Textiles Manufacturers Meet Berry Amendment Standards
US Soldiers
U.S. Soldiers celebrating at the Armed Forces Classic game day in South Korea. Image Credit: Flickr User USAG – Humphreys

The U.S. military and uniformed services purchase their textiles based on specifications that have been enshrined in a series of laws1. The Berry Amendment and the Kissell amendment detail exactly what fabrics and colors are suitable, for everything from camouflage and dress uniforms to tarps and vehicle coverings. For U.S. textile manufacturers, this presents an opportunity to lock down steady contracts, whose requirements do not change as often as those of the ever-evolving world of fashion. With approximately 31,000 line items purchased every year, these contracts can provide a significant amount of revenue for textile makers. Companies manufacturing textiles for U.S. allies must meet similar legal requirements and are presented with similar opportunities.

This is a double-edged sword, however, requiring rigorous quality control systems from manufacturers. If a batch of textiles should fail to meet the standards prescribed by law, it will be rejected and manufacturers must eat the cost of materials, labor, and delivery. Even more alarming, repeated failures could cause the Defense Logistics Agency to end the contract. This would have an immediate, chilling effect on a company’s operations. Fortunately for manufacturers, this is a simpler standard to meet than the whims of designers. It’s an open book test; all manufacturers need to do to ensure they meet requirements is look up the specifications and test their products before delivery to make sure they match. The requirements should be included with the contract paperwork, and if not, will be available on request.

Soldiers hiding in brush
Military textiles like camouflage are designed to protect warfighters and help them blend into their surroundings. Image Credit: Flickr User Program Executive Office Soldier

Quality Control Testing Is Essential in Military Textile Production

Testing, instead of simply relying on a company’s process, is necessary because of the difficulties of properly coloring military fabrics. The military uses a wide range of specialty materials, many of which are not found in other industries or for average consumer use. These materials can be flame retardant or can provide protection against chemical and biological attacks. They can be made of synthetic fibers, natural fibers, or a blend. These unique properties of military textiles affect the fastness of colorants. Each different material requires a different coloration process and mix of materials. As new materials are tested and approved, even companies with longer-term contracts with the military must adjust their processes to make sure they are meeting specifications.

 

Military Officers
Military textiles include more than just camouflage. Image credit: Flickr user See-ming Lee

 

Spectrophotometers Objectively Assess Textile Color

The best way for manufacturers to meet color specifications is to test fabric samples with a reflectance spectrophotometer. These instruments objectively assess the color of opaque objects to a high degree of accuracy and repeatability. In a quality control laboratory, a technician simply places the sample, presses a button on the instrument, and notes whether the sample’s color lies within an established tolerance standard. It’s an easy process, made simpler by the precise color standards set forth by the military. Manufacturers know what color their fabrics need to be, and a spectrophotometer can tell them if their fabrics are that color. This mitigates color quality risk entirely.

A few practical issues can arise when measuring fabrics, that should be taken into consideration. First, fabrics aren’t rigid, and may accidentally pillow into the measurement port, throwing off the measurement. Technicians should be sure to secure fabrics so this does not happen. Next, coloration can occur inconsistently over the breadth of a fabric. Technicians should measure multiple areas on a sample to ensure they all fall within tolerance standards. Modern HunterLab spectrophotometers are able to easily average measurements together, aiding this process. Finally, should the material be gauzy or otherwise nearly transparent, a backing will be required. This backing should always be the same color, and the instrument should be calibrated to take this into effect.

To learn more about how spectrophotometers can improve your textile business, or if you have questions about the spectrophotometer you’re currently using, contact our friendly, professional staff today. We’re happy to help.

  1.  “Textiles and our military,” 2016, http://www.ncto.org/facts-figures/textiles-and-our-military/
How Wineries Use Wine Turbidity to Measure Vintage Quality and Save on Expenses
                  Have you ever noticed any sediment in your red wine? Photo Credit: Pexels User Timur Saglambilek

Have you ever uncorked an aged Bordeaux, and found a thick pile of sediment at the bottom of the bottle? Although this gritty sediment looks unappetizing, it’s actually a set of harmless compounds that play a major role in aged wines. The solid sediment in the wine mixes with the fermented juice over time, forming new flavor compounds that make the wine taste better with age. As these compounds expire, they sink to the bottom of the bottle.

Low wine turbidity makes the wine appear clearer, but it can also negatively impact its ability to age through the decades if it’s filtered too much. By comparison, wines with higher turbidity can sometimes age longer in a cellar, but they often appear unappetizing to casual drinkers. The winery’s goal is to find the ideal balance between these two factors, and many do so by measuring their wine turbidity in advance.

 

Wine Turbidity Varies by Style

Some winemakers prefer high turbidity in their wines, whereas others prefer there to be hardly any sediment at all. For instance, an organic, or “biodynamic,” winery will try to retain as much hazy turbidity as possible when they bottle their wines because they believe that interfering with the wine’s natural state will negatively impact its flavors. Consumers also expect a biodynamic wine1 to have some haziness and a significant amount of sediment since it’s a sign that the winery didn’t try to filter out the sediment before bottling. In some cases, high turbidity makes the wine appear more appetizing for certain customers, rather than less.

However, most wineries choose to filter out as much sediment as possible. A winery that wants their wines to appeal to mainstream, casual drinkers will want to make their wines appear crystal clear before bottling. An estimated 90 percent2 of all wine is consumed within its first year of purchase. Because these wines aren’t designed to age well over time, there’s no reason to have excess sediment in the bottle — the compounds won’t have enough time to expire and sink to the bottom of the container. This is why the majority of wineries choose to filter, or “fine,” their wines to create a liquid that is virtually clear.

Glasses of white wine
It’s important to ensure that wine clarity is constant. Photo Credit: Flickr User Didriks

Measuring Wine Turbidity Prevents Unexpected Expenses

You can’t tell how much sediment is in a wine just by looking at it. To start, the sediment is usually well mixed with the rest of the liquid, and it can take as long as 10 years3 for this hidden sediment to separate from the rest of the wine. Instead, wineries use a color and haze spectrophotometer to determine how clear the liquid is, according to Nephelometric Turbidity Unit (NTU) measurements. Knowing the wine’s NTU reading in advance allows wineries to estimate how many times the wine will have to go through a filter, and how much this process will cost. For instance, in most mainstream wines designed for immediate consumption, an NTU reading of less than 1.04 is considered relatively clear. However, if that reading were greater than 1.0, the winery would likely have to filter the wine for a second time before bottling.

If a winery uses a third party for filtering, as is often the case, that third party company might charge more for wines that have high turbidity. A thick, hazy wine can quickly block the filters on a machine, causing significant damage to the equipment. Many filtering companies won’t even accept wines that are cloudy. When wineries measure their wine’s turbidity in advance, they can take extra steps to clear out the wine before it reaches a third party filter company. Many wineries “fine” their wines with special agents5, such as volcanic clay, gelatin, and egg whites. These agents can grip onto large pieces of sediment to prepare the wine for further filtering. Knowing this in advance saves wineries hidden filtering fees, and prevents costly equipment damage.

red wine being poured into glass
Spectrophotometers can help ensure brand consistency. Photo credit: Flickr User shreddaily101

Ideal Turbidity Could Mean Higher Quality Vintages

A spectrophotometer like Vista can give advanced warning to wineries who want to avoid unexpected filtering costs, however, it’s also useful for wineries who want to craft the best-tasting wine. The only thing to keep in mind is that this instrument works best for near-transparent liquids, like white wines, rather than thicker, more opaque red wines. Other instruments, like the UltraScan VIS, can handle a wider range of wine styles, allowing wineries to get an accurate read on turbidity.

Critics pay close attention to a wine’s clarity and balance of tannins, both of which are impacted by the wine’s turbidity. A wine with less sediment will taste more pleasant in its youth because it won’t have as many bitter tannins mixed in with the fruit. A wine with more sediment will taste slightly bitter or astringent in its youth, and these flavors will mellow out over time as the sediment naturally separates. How much sediment a winery chooses to leave in the wine will depend on whether they want their wines to impress drinkers early, or whether long term aging is their goal.

To accomplish this, a winery can test samples for turbidity throughout the winemaking process. Sphere instruments such as the UltraScan VIS can detect the exact NTU reading for wine samples, giving wineries the opportunity to tweak these measurements before bottling. This instrument, in particular, is capable of measuring liquids that run from crystal clear to opaque, making it the perfect solution for any wine style. Wineries can use it to measure turbidity in their clear white wines, and also use it to measure thicker, opaque wines like Syrah. Having the freedom to switch between different wine styles and ideal turbidity readings using one piece of equipment is essential for wineries, especially those that bottle tens of thousands of gallons of wine every year.

  1. Getting into Biodynamic wine,” 2014, http://winefolly.com/review/biodynamic-wine-guide/
  2. “Six things you probably don’t know about wine,” https://www.winecurmudgeon.com/six-things-you-probably-dont-know-about-wine/
  3. “Ask Dr. Vinny,” http://www.winespectator.com/drvinny/show/id/42951
  4. “The filterability of wine,” 2013, http://www.wineland.co.za/the-filterability-of-wine/
  5. “A clearer understanding of fining agents,” 2007, https://winemakermag.com/26-a-clearer-understanding-of-fining-agents
Measuring the Color of Aloe Vera Gel to Ensure Consistent Quality
Despite the astounding technological growth, when it comes to food consumers are increasingly interested in the benefits of natural products like aloe vera. Image Source: Pexels user Tina Floersch

Over the past two decades, we have witnessed the emergence of technologies that were previously unimaginable. From the rise of the internet to the automation of manufacturing, technology now shapes our world in ways that have fundamentally altered how we function. Both individually and collectively. Yet, while our dependence on high-tech living is greater than ever, we are simultaneously experiencing a new appreciation for natural goods that have stood the test of time. Perhaps nowhere is this truer than in the food industry. In this dialectical environment, traditional plants are increasingly being incorporated into modern edible products. And one of the stars of this movement is aloe vera.

Aloe vera is best known for its topical, sunburn-soothing applications. But, owing to its healing properties, the sticky substance has actually been used in food form for thousands of years. Rich in antioxidants, amino acids, minerals, and essential vitamins, aloe vera is said to regulate metabolic activity, alleviate inflammation, and even prevent diabetes.1 Today, aloe vera is available in a virtually endless array of edible products, from gel capsules to yogurt to the extraordinarily popular aloe vera juices and waters that have taken the world by storm in recent years.2

This enthusiasm for ingestible aloe vera comes at a time when consumers demand not only natural products but natural products of the highest quality. For aloe vera products, this means that manufacturers are now turning to the possibilities of new technologies to enhance their products both functionally and aesthetically. In order to evaluate the effects of these technologies on the sensory properties of aloe vera products, measuring the color of aloe vera gel has become a critical part of the assessment process.

Aloe Vera drink
Incorporation of aloe vera gel in a range of new edible products is spurring researchers to develop new technologies that will preserve the plant’s functional and sensory properties. Image Source: Flickr user Health Gauge

 

Incorporating New Technologies in Aloe Vera Gel Processing

To allow raw aloe vera to be transformed into a safe consumable product with a stable shelf-life, it must first undergo processing. Often of the side-effect of processing is the removal of the very properties for which aloe vera is renowned. Heating, dehydration, and grinding may all leave the aloe vera products with minimal or no active ingredients. As such, there is now growing interest in using our advanced technologies to develop new processing methods that will preserve its beneficial properties while giving consumers the sensory experience they have come to know.

 

One of the most promising technologies available to date is high hydrostatic pressure (HHP). According to a cohort of researchers led by Karina Di Scala, HHP “optimizes the intake of nutritive phytochemicals in human food” and makes it “possible to obtain safe and wholesome food that maintains all sensory qualities.”3 In contrast to heat-based processing methods, HHP minimizes the risk of thermal damage, allows for improved flavor and texture, and can be performed more rapidly. However, one of the most striking benefits of HHP is the possibility of color retention.

 

Measuring the Color of Aloe Vera Gel

The color of aloe vera gel is one of its most significant sensory components, signaling freshness and suggesting the taste. Even slight deviations from consumers’ color expectations can have a drastic impact on how aloe vera products are perceived and experienced. Due to the vital role of color, the researchers determined that color retention must be an integral part any assessment of HHP technology.

In order to measure the effect of HHP on aloe vera gel color, Di Scala et al. employed a HunterLab MiniScan spectrophotometer to collect objective color data. As they note, “Color as a sensory characteristic is best evaluated through the determination of color difference, a quantity that expresses color variation with respect to a reference value.” By measuring the color of samples processed at various settings and comparing them to a standard based on untreated control samples, the researchers were able to determine an optimal pressure range (150 to 250 MPa). Combined with investigation into HHP’s impact on antioxidant capacity, phenolic content, firmness, and rehydration ratio, “these results showed that HHP technology … would be highly beneficial for the production of a high quality ingredient.”

Spectrophotometers offer a simple, rapid, and economical way to monitor color at every stage of the manufacturing process. Image Source: Pexels user Pixabay

 

The Value of Spectrophotometers

Spectrophotometers are a critical part of evaluating emerging technologies as we seek to create better processing methods for aloe vera and optimize the health benefits of this remarkable substance. However, the value of spectrophotometers goes much further; these instruments can be easily integrated into the manufacturing processes itself to ensure accurate coloration at every stage and continuously monitor the impact of process variables on the production line. By giving you real-time feedback on aloe vera gel appearance, you can instantly be alerted to an undesirable color variation that compromises the quality of your product. This allows you to ensure that only the best products are released into the marketplace, helping you both enhance public perception of your brand and minimize the economic costs associated with a faulty product. At a time when consumers demand the highest quality, this can be pivotal for your business and solidify your place in an increasingly competitive market.

HunterLab Innovation

HunterLab has been at the forefront of color measurement technology for over 60 years. Today, we offer a comprehensive range of cutting-edge spectrophotometric instruments to help our consumers in the food industry create the best possible products for a new generation of discriminating consumers. With a full lineup of portable, benchtop, and in-line spectrophotometers to choose from, we have the tools you need to rapidly assess color quality at any stage of the research or manufacturing process. Contact us to learn more about our renowned instruments, customizable software packages, and world-class customer support services.

 

 

  1. “What Are the Benefits of Eating Aloe Vera?”, June 23, 2015, http://www.livestrong.com/article/245440-what-are-the-benefits-of-eating-aloe-vera/
  2. “Why Is Everyone Suddenly Drinking Aloe Juice?”, February 10, 2015, http://www.prevention.com/beauty/aloe-juice-benefits
  3. “Chemical and Physical Properties of Aloe Vera (Aloe Barbadensis Miller) Gel Stored After High Hydrostatic Pressure Processing”, February 20, 2013, http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0101-20612013000100009
Vista Spectrophotometer Improves Color Quality Control for Vodka Distilleries

I was at a bar with a Russian friend the other day. He ordered us some premium vodka, and it was so smooth that I almost forgot how alcoholic it was! This got me thinking about how the vodka I drank in college wasn’t good vodka. My friends and I (and much of the student body) would buy one of many different brands of what was all essentially the same rotgut. For about ten dollars, we could purchase 1.75 liters of this clear, syrupy liquid in a plastic bottle. I know it was distilled, at least a few times. However, when you drank it, although you couldn’t see them, you could feel on your tongue little bits of—something—floating around in there. Maybe that’s why it tasted so bad.

Popov vodka
You know it’s the right stuff when it comes in a plastic handle. Image credit: Flickr User Kim+5 (CC BY 2.0)

 

Brand Consistency for Vodka Distilleries

 

Not all vodka comes in plastic handles, and even if it does, quality control is an essential element of the production process. After repeated distillation, manufacturers subject their batches to a battery of QC tests designed to ensure color clarity, transparency, and the flavor is consistent with their brand. Only after passing this regimen is the vodka bottled and shipped to distributors.

 

The reason for this is obvious: brand consistency. A major selling point for middle and top-shelf vodka companies is their comparative quality and distinctive flavor, or lack thereof. Should they ship out batches of off-color vodka, customers are likely to choose a different option off the shelf. These customers will also remember the decision and will be more likely to choose another brand in the future. That holds true even if the batch in front of them is the color it’s supposed to be.

 

Customers won’t notice haze or strange flavors until after they’ve bought the bottle, or received a drink at the bar. However, they’ll remember the experience and will be more likely to choose a different brand the next time they’re looking for a drink. Quality control then is not only important for the immediate batch, but to safeguard the reputation of every other future batch as well.

Vodka being sold
Makers of high-quality vodka rely on instrumental color quality control to differentiate their products. Image Credit: Flickr User James Hubley (CC BY 2.0)

 

Instrumental Color and Haze Measurement Ensures Vodka Quality Control

 

With their brand’s reputation at stake, vodka producers rely on transmission spectrophotometers and haze measurement instruments to ensure that their liquor is the right color and completely transparent. These instruments measure color and haze, respectively, using similar methods. They pass a controlled beam of light through a transparent liquid and record any changes in the light as it hits a detector on the other side. Quality control technicians place the sample into the instrument, take the measurement, and observe the result displayed on the instrument’s screen. It is a straightforward method for determining if the sample color (or lack thereof) is within acceptable tolerances.

vodka with city backdrop
Quality and luxury are top selling points of high-quality vodkas. Image Credit: Flickr User AnestesiA Vodka (CC BY 2.0)

 

Benefits and Drawbacks of Color and Haze Measurement Instruments

 

Due to their improved reliability and precision over human observers, color and haze measurement instruments have become the industry standard for quality control of transparent liquids. However, that’s not to say these instruments don’t have drawbacks.

 

For one, their large size crowds up benchtop space in small laboratories, which is especially onerous for small to mid-size craft distilleries. Also, they often require a connection to a nearby PC to store saved color standards, display results or transfer data to a company server. Other aspects are outdated as well, such as the need to calibrate the instrument daily with a set of colored disks.

 

Recognizing the need for improvement, at HunterLab, we’ve designed Vista, a single instrument capable of measuring both transmission color and haze simultaneously. Not only does it replace two instruments with one, it’s also significantly smaller than either earlier machine. Despite its small size, its modern processor is capable of storing saved standards and transmitting data without the need for a PC. Also, its large touchscreen display makes reading measurement data fast and simple. It doesn’t need colored disks, either—it can calibrate automatically at the touch of a button.

 

To read more about how Vista can improve your distillery’s quality control processes, contact us today to speak with one of our friendly, knowledgeable sales professionals.

Instrumental Color Quality Control Smooths Out Raw Materials Variation in Whipped Cream Production

“I think it’s gone bad,” says Ken. “Is that possible? I didn’t think that was possible. Maybe I shouldn’t eat this.” He looks down at the slice of cake in front of him, topped in a greenish-grey approximation of whipped cream. “But I made it special for your birthday!” says Jen. “You mean you don’t like it?” Her eyes widen, and she starts to get up from the table, reaching to clear Ken’s plate. “No, I like it,” he says. “Really, I like it. It looks great! I know you put a lot of work into it. Just maybe the cream in the can get a little old. The cake looks awesome. Here, I’ll just scrape the cream away.” Jen smiles and sits back down as Ken scrapes the cream off the cake. It still looks a little gross where the cream used to be, but Ken puts on a smile and swallows a bite. “Delicious,” he says, and as he looks across the table at Jen, it really is. “That’s weird,” she says. “That it’s so old. I just got it yesterday.” Ken looks back at the puddle of melting cream on the edge of his plate. It looks grosser than before. He turns back to Jen and says: “Maybe try a different brand next year?”

 

whipped cream on pancakes
Good whipped cream can make a good meal better. Image Credit: Flickr User Hideya HAMANO (CC BY 2.0)

 

 

Raw Materials Variation Can Create Brand Inconsistency

 

Customers expect their whipped cream to be a particular shade of white. Not just any white, but the exact same white that it’s been every time they’ve pressed down the nozzle and covered their strawberry shortcake in foamy cream. For manufacturers, this means that special care must be taken to ensure that customers get the cream they expect. Any color deviations can raise concerns in customers. If the color of the cream is different, they will wonder if other properties may be different as well and if it is safe to eat. These concerns can lead them to think twice before purchasing a bottle of the same brand the next time they shop. This can potentially cost a company a lifetime’s worth of sales.

 

However, maintaining a standard color in whipped cream products can be easier said than done. The principal ingredient1 of whipped cream is milk, which can exhibit a spectrum of different colors depending on factors including the health, diet, and age of the cows it comes from. Both the overall amount of fat in the cream, and its liquid or crystalline properties, can vary as well. Process variations, such as temperature fluctuation during pasteurization, can affect the final product color as well.

 

whipped cream on brownie
Manufacturers use spectrophotometers to ensure each batch of whipped cream is the same shade of white. Image Credit: Flickr User jeffreyw (CC BY 2.0)

 

 

Spectrophotometers Ensure Whipped Cream Meets Color Standards

 

In order to catch any color deviation resulting from differences in raw materials or production processes, whipped cream manufacturers rely on instrumental color quality control. Instruments known as spectrophotometers can objectively assess the color of opaque objects such as whipped cream with a very high degree of repeatability. These instruments measure the color of objects using reflectance spectrophotometry.

 

Unlike human observers, spectrophotometers can translate color into a numerical value. To obtain an objective color value, a quality control technician simply places the sample in the instrument, presses a button, and notes whether the numerical output falls within established tolerance standards. No matter who the technician is or in which facility they’re located, the measurement will be the same.

 

With over six decades of experience designing spectrophotometers for the food industry, HunterLab has become a trusted name in instrumental color quality control. If you’re interested in learning more about which spectrophotometer can best improve your production process, contact our friendly, professional representatives today.

 

Blow molders Need Transmittance Spectrophotometers for Efficient Color Quality Control

We’ve all walked into a store on a hot summer day looking for a cold and refreshing beverage. When I lived in Canada and would visit the US, I was always floored by the wide variety of soda flavors to choose from on the shelf. Ultimately, beverage color played a role in my final selection, but mostly it was the bottle color that really swung my vote. Bottle color is essential to the brands of established companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi1 and for up and coming companies that want to establish themselves.

 

7UP
The characteristic green bottle of 7UP makes it easy to identify and suggests a certain flavor. Image Credit: Flickr User El Gran Dee (CC BY 2.0)

 

 

Color Consistency Is Essential for Blow Molders

 

Not only is the color of the bottle a major feature of manufacturers’ brands, but its transparency must also be consistent. This means that it is integral that blow mold manufacturers produce consistently colored products. Some people, like myself, associate bottle color with the taste that we think matches that particular shade. Others with a more sensitive palate actually can taste the long-term effects of UV exposure on their beverages2. This means that if your product is sensitive to certain wavelengths, the color and transparency of your bottle will affect your product’s shelf life.  

 

The need for large-scale consistency dictates the implementation of instrumental color measurement devices, like spectrophotometers. These instruments eliminate the guesswork that human observers must rely on. Spectrophotometers can also record data more quickly and accurately than human observers, by uploading it directly to a computer or network library. Because of these gains in efficiency, most blow molders use spectrophotometers for their color QC.

 

blow molded mouthwash bottles
Some manufacturers prefer transparent bottles, to showcase the color of their products. Image Credit: Flickr User Jeff Kimmel (CC BY 2.0)

 

Opaque and Transparent Plastics Require Different Color Measurement Techniques

 

The coloration process that creates opaque and transparent preforms can be inaccurate, which is why manufacturers need color quality control in the first place. A color is injected into preforms in the form of plastic pellets during the molded process. Creating an opaque plastic is a matter of controlling the amount and concentration of pellets added. To create a transparent or translucent clear or colored plastic, a manufacturer adds much less color than an opaque plastic requires. Color inaccuracy can result from differences in the raw pellets, temperature fluctuations during the molding process, or the uneven dispersion of pellets.

 

Spectrophotometers Save Blow Mold Manufacturers Time and Money

 

We at HunterLab have over 60 years of experience creating instruments to help you optimize your QA and QC processes. For blow molders, we recommend using the UltraScan Vis spectrophotometer. To learn more about how we can address your color measurement needs, contact our friendly, knowledgeable sales force today.

 

  1. “Antique Cola and Pop Bottles,” http://www.collectorsweekly.com/bottles/cola
  2. “Physics and Green Beer Bottles,” https://www.wired.com/2013/03/physics-and-green-beer-bottles/
Food Processors Rely on Spectrophotometers to Ensure Color Consistency Despite Variations in Natural Ingredients

Every parent of a college student will understand that the student’s diet is probably heavy on pizza, ramen noodles, and macaroni & cheese. Parents who are concerned about this diet might take some comfort from Kraft’s recent decision to phase out artificial preservatives and synthetic colors from its ubiquitous mac & cheese products1. Yet any food processor’s decision to move toward natural ingredients will pose challenges that, if not handled properly, can affect the appearance, taste, and overall quality of food products.

 

                                                    

Kraft dinner
The familiar orange-yellow elbow macaroni and cheese is a welcome site to many college students. And it’s always the same color. Image Source: Flickr User Aidan Morgan (CC BY 2.0)

 

To maintain consistent product color, a food processing company transitioning to natural food dyes and ingredients must adjust processing conditions in real time. Consider this challenge in the context of butter. Milk from dairy cows that are raised on artificial feed generates butter that is pale or white. Butter that starts out as milk from natural grass-fed cows is bright yellow2. So, a food processor that uses grass-fed butter is adding higher levels of yellow pigmentation to its food products. More importantly, that level varies with natural changes in the cow’s diet. The same is true for cheeses and other products that start out as milk. The challenge is compounded as other natural ingredients are utilized.

 

Food Processors Make Real-Time Adjustments for Color Consistency

 

The final color of any food product is a function of the product’s ingredients, the chemical environment (e.g. acidity) at various stages of the processing cycle, and the processing conditions themselves (e.g. temperature)3. Food processors already implement controls over environment and conditions but also need to implement controls to respond to the greater variability of natural ingredients. Extra adjustments are needed to smooth out color variations that result from natural ingredient variations.

 

With macaroni and cheese, for example, a processor might adopt a natural annatto extract in place of synthetic yellow dyes. Annatto is a natural yellow colorant that is derived from the seeds of bush. Its yellow to orange color results from a blend of naturally-occurring compounds, including carotenoids, bixin, and norbixin4. By altering the amount of annatto added in the process, the processor can alter the final color of their mac & cheese. To make these changes, however, the processor needs a simple and economical tool to measure the product’s color during the processing cycle.

 

Annato seeds
Annato seeds in their natural form. Image credit: Flickr User Jonathan Stonehouse (CC BY 2.0)

 

Spectrophotometers Measure Food Color Against Objective Standards

 

Food processors test ingredients before using them in actual processing conditions. Natural ingredients can be within specifications yet still exhibit significant variability that will affect downstream color. Line operators and technicians can use portable spectrophotometers to assess color differences at multiple processing stages. These instruments provide objective color analysis quickly and reliably by measuring light reflected from opaque objects. Based on this analysis, any necessary adjustments to color can be implemented.

 

HunterLab has long been an industry leader in providing spectrophotometers that are uniquely adaptable to food processing industry challenges. The company produces a range of both benchtop and portable devices that have different measurement modalities for every specific phase of a food processing cycle. Our product specialists can show you how to use our instruments to maintain a perfect end product color regardless of ingredient specification variability. Please contact us for more information about our color measurement and food industry expertise.