Slatkin and Burke had no intention of using artificial dyes, of course, because of studies that link the coloring agents to learning disabilities in children. But even organic food colorings, derived from vegetables or spices, can pose a dilemma for manufacturers, notes Darryl Williams, technical specialist for Oregon Tilth, which certified Torie & Howard candies for the USDA National Organic Program. For example: An organic coloring agent, when added to acidic foods, will deteriorate and lose its color over time. Or the colorant may be sold only in liquid form and the product manufacturer wants powder.
That is why the USDA allows flexibility in the area of food coloring. If a company can provide documentation that it has tried three sources for an organic color but still can't find a suitable one, it can turn to an approved non-organic alternative, Williams says. Thus, for example, in Torie & Howard's pomegranate-and-nectarine candies, two out of the five coloring agents are non-organic: red cabbage and purple carrots, alongside the organic black carrots, black currants and apples.
That list of food colorings for one product should give you an idea of how meticulous Burke and Slatkin are. They tested more than 35 flavor combinations before deciding on the four citrus-heavy candies they now sell: pomegranate and nectarine; d'Anjou pear and cinnamon; blood orange and honey; and pink grapefruit and Tupelo honey.
The small, individually wrapped candies (12 calories per pop) taste less like the super-sweet Life Savers of childhood and more like tart, concentrated blasts of reduced fruit juices.
Because Burke and Slatkin are designers, not flavor chemists, they focused a lot of attention on packaging. They wanted to create an experience for hard-candy lovers that would, in a small way, mimic the luxury environments that Burke and Slatkin used to design for the wealthy. The candies are available in two-ounce tins ($3.99 to $4.99, whether retail or online) that look simultaneously elegant, old-fashioned and contemporary — like French candy tins or designer snuff boxes for a generation hooked on sugar, not tobacco.