Strategies for Achieving Cheesy Shades in Savory Snacks

Cheese Tops the Flavor List
Snacking is on the rise as increasingly flexible lifestyles lead to the disruption of traditional meals, activities, and day parts. Even during COVID-19, consumer interest in snacking continues to grow. This is partly due to the desire for comfort food items, but also because family occasions are often associated with snacking. As families spend more time together, demand for at-home snack foods is on the rise.

However, even as consumer habits change rapidly, some things stay the same. From comfort food to cravings satisfaction, cheese-flavored savory snacks are ever popular for all ages. In fact, cheese flavors are growing in popularity.quote1

Cheesy snacks may be the number one choice for consumers of snack foods, but 22% of snack consumers are concerned about artificial colors (Mintel 2020). Fortunately, advancements in natural color technology and botanical sources make it possible for developers to achieve delicious cheesy and savory shades in all snack applications.

“Cleaner” ingredients like natural
colors carry a health halo as well, creating an opportunity for savory snack brands. 61% of consumers agree that chips made from “all-natural” ingredients are healthier than other chips, and 26% of adults in the US would eat more crackers if they perceived them as being healthier (Mintel 2020).

So how can developers impart the perfect cheesy snack shade for naturally colored cheese puffs, cheese crackers, cheese chips, cheese popcorn, and more?

Natural Color Strategies for Cheese Snacks
There are two strategies for adding cheesy color to salty snacks like chips, puffs, and crackers: one can either color the base or the topical seasoning.

Coloring the Base
By adding color to the base, brands can offer snackers a “tidier” snack. Snacks that allow consumers to keep their hands clean are popular for gamers, crafters, and others who just want a neater snack time.

The key challenge to coloring the base of a baked or extruded snack with natural colors is heat stability. In the cheesy shades space, we are fortunate that many go-to botanicals are inherently heat-stable. Colors like annatto, turmeric, beta-carotene, and paprika will look great in baked and extruded applications!

For a spicier flavor or a warm orange blend, extrusion and bake-stable carmine is a great red solution. However, with plant-based diets becoming increasingly popular, 16% of all snack launches in North America featured a vegan claim in the last year (Mintel 2020). Carmine is not compatible with plant-based or vegan diets, so a botanical alternative is often desired. A heat-stable beet solution like SupraRed™ offers a deep, bold red that can be blended with heat-stable natural yellows to reach cheesy orange shades.

Color the Seasoning
Coloring the cheese slurry is a topic we have written about previously. One Sensient solution for slurries is the AET Cheezem™ technology, which creates a single, stable emulsion of natural colors to create a deliciously cheesy color that can be sprayed onto chips, puffed snacks, extruded snacks, and more.

Often, cheesy snacks are associated with highly colored seasonings because it ends up on snackers’ fingers. In 2015, Cheetos™ even announced through their brand mascot @ChesterCheetah on Twitter that “Cheetle is dust that sticks to your fingers when eating Cheetos. More magical than pixie dust.” They choose to leverage the messy ‘experience’ as an integral part of their brand. This is one example that demonstrates the importance of color to brand identity.

To add color to a topical seasoning, you need to plate the color on top of the seasoning and then coat the snack with seasoning. Sensient’s Microfine™ technology was originally developed specifically for this application: replacing synthetic lakes in topical, powdered, and plating applications to meet consumer demand for natural colors. Today, this natural color solution enables developers to unleash nature’s full rainbow for topical seasoning applications from fiery reds, to classic orange cheddar, to bright Swiss shades and beyond.

Clean Label Colors

While research shows that synthetic colors are safe for human consumption, label scrutiny and consumer demands for naturalness continue to grow. The next step in this “all-natural” evolution is extra-clean labeling like organic certification.


One third of consumers feel that “organic” is an important attribute when choosing better-for-you snacks

(Mintel 2019)

Similar extra-clean color solutions are available for coloring either the base or the seasoning in savory snack applications. Within the Microfine™ portfolio, Certified Organic solutions are available.

For those who don’t need a full organic designation, but are still looking to create products that comply with strict “no-no” lists of prohibited ingredients, Simplifine™ offers preservative-free and clean carrier natural color solutions with the same technical advantages as Microfine™.


If a developer is coloring the base of the snack, Certified Organic colors like annatto and turmeric will likewise function like their non-organic counterparts.

Cautious consumers are also putting a closer eye to food safety and ingredient traceability.

Traceability is a major benefit of a global seed-to-shelf agronomy program. For example, Sensient builds lasting partnerships throughout the annatto supply chain down to the farm level, ensuring a stable and growing supply of this key botanical. Our operation in Peru works closely with local farmers to create programs in the local community that create a positive and meaningful impact while also obtaining fresh annatto seed supply for our extraction facility.

If you have questions about any of our botanical sources or want project-specific advice for your next cheesy snack formulation, reach out to schedule a consultation! If you’re ready to sample one of the solutions above, go ahead and request a sample to get started.

Related Posts