High-Performing Natural Food Colors For Beverage Syrups and Concentrates

Color is Key in QSR Launches

As quick service restaurants compete for limited consumer attention, differentiation through colorful, unique launches is becoming more and more popular. Color conveys flavor, and it also creates shareable moments for loyal fans to post, particularly in the case of limited time only beverage offerings.


(Mintel 2018)

For beverages like refreshers and coffee-based drinks, a colorful syrup can indicate the flavor added while also adding visual interest that a consumer may want to share online. Both limited time offerings and permanent menu items benefit from the use of color, as seen in launches from Panera®, Starbucks®, Dunkin’®, and other brands.

Shake Shack iced beverages
Tim Hortons iced beverages
Starbucks purple fruit iced refresher beverage
Panera pink iced drink
Starbucks purple Frappicino
Dunkin Donuts iced beverages

Image credits: Tim Hortons®, Shake Shack®, Starbucks®, Panera Bread®, and Dunkin®

Naturalness is also a priority for many of these brands, as consumers push for clean labels and the removal of artificial ingredients. 34% of consumers are looking for more premium ingredients at fast-casual or quick service restaurants, including natural colors (Mintel, 2022). Nature offers developers a wide rainbow of bright colors to excite consumers, and insights from color experts can help accelerate and simplify formulation. Let’s talk about a few recommendations…

Using Stable Natural Colors in Syrups

Developers working to incorporate natural color into syrups for beverages need to contend with the intricacies of those natural colors. For example, the acidity of both the syrup and the final beverage are key considerations. If the pH changes when the syrup is mixed into a beverage, the shade of certain natural colors may shift. Anthocyanins, for example, thrive in low pH environments, but may color shift when that pH changes. Color experts can help formulators ensure that the color solution recommended will maintain the shade at different acidity levels in application.

woman sipping iced green beverage outside

Green shades can be particularly challenging for this reason as well. While syrups generally have a pH under 3.0, in order to achieve bright green shades with the natural color solutions currently permitted and available on the market in North America, a pH of at least 3.6 is needed. Adjustments to the pH of the syrup or the final beverage may be necessary to achieve the desired hue.


Stability under light exposure is also a common concern, as many syrups are held in transparent packaging for extended periods of time. If your final packaging is known, color experts can recommend appropriately stable solutions based on your needs and the destination of that product.

Cost awareness is another key consideration in the development process. Highly concentrated, optimized color solutions can reduce cost-in-use while imparting the same bright shade desired in the end product. If you have a specific cost target in mind for a project, Sensient experts can work within that range to offer solutions that will fit your needs.

Unleash Nature’s Rainbow in Syrups

While there are certain considerations to keep in mind for natural color in syrups, a bold rainbow is available for developers! Check out these solutions for beverage and dessert syrups:

For bold reds, solutions like Sensient’s exclusive lycopene-based Watermelon-Rose offer unique stable shades. Emphasize classic cherry and strawberry profiles or seasonal flavors like red velvet and cinnamon with red beta-carotenes or highly concentrated, cost-effective anthocyanins.

Watermelon-Rose, red beta-carotenes, and highly concentrated anthocyanins can also be used at different usage rates to bring bright pink to life. Pink can often be achieved using a lower usage rate than a red target, making it more cost-effective in many cases. Flavors like dragon fruit and hibiscus pair well with sweet pink hues, as do standout themes like flamingo or unicorn.

Orange flavors like seasonal spices, summery citrus, or floral orange blossom come to life in eye-catching shades. In order to attain bold, highly concentrated oranges that meet the needs of a syrup, Sensient’s proprietary Pure-S™ Paprika is a turnkey solution. The Pure-S™ technology gently purifies this colorant to remove any unwanted flavor off-notes at high usage rates.

Bright yellows pair well with flavors from spring pastels to fruity pineapple or banana, but can also offer an electrifying visual to pair with an energetic beverage. Warmer yellow tones can also be reminiscent of sweet and savory treats like buttered popcorn. Bring those hues to life with beta-carotene emulsions and Sensient’s Advanced Emulsion Technology™ (AET) in syrup applications.

The recent approval of butterfly pea flower extract for use in syrups and other applications opens the door to bright blue hues! From trendy themes like unicorn, galaxy, and mermaid to more traditional blueberry, cotton candy, or blue raspberry, blue is a unique shade in the syrup space.

The challenges of green have been outlined above, but a blend of butterfly pea flower extract and stable yellow solutions can be the perfect solution in the right environment. From refreshing mint to tangy kiwi, green is an eye-catching hue in beverages that’s sure to create a shareable moment.

Blending butterfly pea flower extract with stable natural red solutions offers perfect purples for syrup applications. Purple hues can bring to life whimsical profiles like unicorn, mermaid, and galaxy, but they can also pair with flavors like classic grape or exotic ube.

Caramel-free natural brown syrups can be colored with Sensient’s Sienna™ fruit juice technology. From deep chocolatey flavors to lighter honey or pastry tan shades, brown syrups can add a delicious visual to elevate a flavor profile.

Custom blends of butterfly pea flower extract and Sienna can result in unusual, eye-catching black shades for an adventurous look. Seasonal launches for Halloween or other LTOs can be elevated with a unique spooky aesthetic.

Whitening agents like titanium dioxide or Sensient’s clean-label Avalanche™ portfolio offer a cloudy appearance to beverage syrups and the final finished beverage. Cloud can impart an aesthetic emphasis on fruit or dairy content or an otherwise opaque drink.

Bring Color to Your Next Beverage Syrup!

Sensient experts are excited to help you bring bold, delicious colors to your next beverage or dessert syrup! To get started on a project, request a sample of any of the solutions outlined above. If you still have questions, our team loves to talk color and is happy to help.

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