Caramel-Free Natural Browns for Pet Kibble and Extruded Treats

Requests for Caramel-Replacement Increasing

Recently, we have been seeing a lot of requests to replace caramel coloring in pet kibble. These inquiries most likely stem from the uncertainty around the future of caramel color due to ongoing scrutiny. Additionally, consumers are increasingly pursuing more natural or plant-based ingredients in their own food purchases, which is translating to the pet arena as well. According to Sensient Consumer Research, 52% of the general population believe food coloring from plant sources is an important factor in their purchasing decision.

Consumer desire for natural ingredients in their own products extends into the pet industry with formulas that meet clean-label expectations. Sensient offers a wide rainbow of AAFCO-natural pet food colors and AAFCO-compliant ingredients for developers and brands seeking to meet these demands, including a broad spectrum of brown hues.

Sample AAFCO-natural color solutions here

Natural Color Challenges for Brown Shades

Luckily, our R&D team has spent the last several years researching and developing color solutions for extruded kibbles. This is a complex challenge due to variations in the kibble base due to the many different recipes. For example, where once grain-based recipes were very popular, now, there is a surge of grain-free or protein and vegetable mixtures. These varied ingredient combinations change the color of base products, so a one-size fits all solution isn’t the best approach in kibble applications. A grain-free formula also requires grain-free color solutions, which are available within our portfolio.

Additionally, the extreme heat associated with extrusion and the pH of base material are the main two things that could potentially affect your end color result. Dependent on target shade, a red vegetable juice could be a component in your color solution, and some natural reds like beet juice are sensitive to heat. Extrusion processes also vary greatly from company to company, so color formulations most often need to be custom to the respective processing conditions. Also, a pH-stable and heat-stable natural blue is exceptionally challenging to find. Spirulina is a common source of blue colors but doesn’t survive heat processing and isn’t permitted in pet food. Anthocyanins would be alternative blue options but exhibit more purplish shades in the standard pH range of 5.5-7 in most pet kibbles, which can be good or bad dependent on darkness of target brown shade.

Perfecting Your Kibble Color with a Customized Approach

Due to the variations associated with heat, pH, base color and extrusion, a tailored color solution is often necessary to achieve stable target shades. Let’s take a look at what that means for four different brown shades…


Color Solution: Caramel-Free Natural Browns like Sienna™

Sensient’s fruit juice-sourced Sienna™ solution offers brands a range of brown shades on top of light base shades.




Color Solution: Caramel-Free Natural Brown Blend using Sienna™ + Natural Yellow or Orange

Depending on the base shade of the dough, blending Sienna™ fruit juice with a natural orange or yellow like annatto or beta carotene can give rich, warm brown shades.


Color Solution: (Red + Orange + Blue)
Heat-Stable Natural Reds like Uberbeet™
+ Oranges like Paprika or Beta-Carotene
+ pH-stable Blues

Sensient’s Uberbeet™ portfolio includes heat-stable natural beet solutions like SupraRed™ and Magna Ruby, which are optimized for use in heat-processed applications like extrusion or baking. Extrusion tends to have a relatively short residence time within the heat processing step, so several solutions within the Uberbeet™ portfolio are successful. Blending natural reds with US-sourced paprika or beta carotene and pH- and heat-stable natural blues offers darker browns in kibble.




Color Solution: Anthocyanin Blends

Sensient’s team of color experts has successfully leveraged an extensive anthocyanin portfolio to reach dark brown shades in kibble products. Depending on the kibble base, adding red or purple hues from Sensient’s cost-effective proprietary anthocyanins allows developers to reach excellent dark browns.


Color Solution: Caramel-Free Dark Brown Blends
Dark natural brown alternatives to caramel colors

Within the Sienna™ portfolio, Sensient offers blends that reach darker hues comparable to the Class III and IV caramel range. Adding blue or red components deepens the brown hues from Sienna™ blends even further.


Another hot topic to consider when formulating with natural ingredients in pet food is country of origin. In order for brands to make the on-pack claim of “Made in America,” origin of natural color source becomes more critical.

Need color assistance for pet food beyond kibble? Check out our blog on natural color solutions for pet treats here.

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