A “woman in science” and a food artist

You’re likely to have a mouth-watering experience if you look at the colorful pictures of candy on CAPOL’s website – sweet childhood emotions are sure to start resurfacing. Without all the research, science and technology we invest in our products, however, they wouldn’t be as successful – or as appetizing. With the UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science approaching, we’ve decided to introduce to you one of our esteemed women scientists – chemist Nsa’nkwe’ni NSISSAE YOH'NSI – who’s responsible for bringing color to your candy and a smile to your face.

A “woman in science” and a food artist

A conversation with chemist Nsa’nkwe’ni NSISSAE YOH'NSI

Nsa’nkwe’ni (say: “San kwaynee”) joins us online from the colorful CAPOL conference room at our CAPOL Inc. branch in Montreal, Canada, where she works, and where CAPOL develops natural food colorings for the global confectionery industry. A native of France, Nsa’nkwe’ni’s face lights up when she tells us about her job: developing new formulas for natural food colorings. Her current project? Creating a new red for strawberry ice cream.

Our first question is rather obvious: how did she end up in this fascinating job? She explains that from an early age, she was intrigued by chemistry – basically the science of nature when you break it down. Nsa’nkwe’ni has always loved exploring nature and discovering how things work on the micro level: “By discovering chemistry, you discover yourself,” she says. In secondary school, her passion for the sciences deepened and she decided to go on to study chemistry at university. During her first year, when all science and technology students were taught together, some three quarters of her classmates were men. This changed significantly when she entered her specialization, chemistry. There, the majority of the students at her university in France were women!  

“Chemistry is not just about chains of molecules. It is the science behind all nature, and it shapes our everyday lives.”


Nsa’nkwe’ni NSISSAE YOH'NSI, Chemist and Natural Food Color Specialist at CAPOL

During her studies she was particularly inspired by two women professors who were gifted when it came to explaining the intricacies of chemistry with such clarity that complex matters became easy to understand. Those two women’s special way of bridging theory and practice enabled their students to understand how chemistry shapes our everyday life and how it can be applied – that chemistry is far more than just chains of molecules. Exploring the world of chemistry at a deeper level was like a treasure hunt for Nsa’nkwe’ni, as she discovered new secrets about life every day.

The art of plant-based food coloring

After moving to Canada, she saw that CAPOL was looking for a chemist to work on food colorings, and this excited her. She appreciates the fact that CAPOL’s food colorings are entirely natural. “People associate chemistry with things being artificial, but that’s not true,” she explains. The CAPOL colorings are all vegetable- and plant-based, often extracted from such mundane veggies as red cabbage and spinach. And this is what her job looks like: She splits her time in the CAPOL food coloring lab between the laboratory bench and her desk, where she develops new formulas. Her team of four is currently exploring a new shade of blue.

The challenge? The food industry is one of the most highly regulated sectors in the world and every product and formula must be developed within strict regulatory frameworks. Even so, regulations can’t spoil the fun for Nsa’nkwe’ni, because she simply loves the world of colors. There’s something playful and artistic about exploring colors all day long – especially if you have a true passion for, and a solid scientific base in, chemistry. All this to say that she’s something of a food artist as well as a chemist. Her number-one rule is simple: “I only develop formulas for products that I’m completely willing to eat myself!” They need to be all natural, all healthy, all plant-based.

Vibrant, yet natural

At CAPOL in Montreal, Nsa’nkwe’ni and her team develop new colorings to expand the CAPOL product range for customers from the confectionery and food industry, and create tailored products for them as well. The challenge is in reconciling the fact that end customers often seek both the brightness and boldness of synthetic colors and an all-natural ingredient list. Whether natural colorings with a similar intensity can be achieved depends primarily on the application and how that specific food product is produced. This requires a great deal of expertise and the art is in finding the right balance and a happy medium – vibrant colors extracted from plants.

Another aspect of Nsa’nkwe’ni’s job includes going through the world with open eyes and an open mind so she can stay on top of the latest developments in the food industry. For instance, she explains that spirulina, a high-protein blue-green algae, which has been a standard ingredient in foods in Europe for decades, was only approved for food use in Canada in 2020. This is great news for CAPOL’s food colorings, says Nsa’nkwe’ni, because it opens up lots of new possibilities. 

“We keep working on new formulas to be on top of the latest developments in the food industry. Enriching the world of food colors the natural way.”


Nsa’nkwe’ni NSISSAE YOH'NSI, Chemist and Natural Food Color Specialist at CAPOL

It can take upwards of nine months or more for a new formula to be developed – only then can it go into production and hit the candy aisles. For Nsa’nkwe’ni, however, time doesn’t seem to feel long because she appears to be enjoying every minute of the process “My job is so fun!” she says. She has a sweet position at CAPOL, it would seem, and perfectly expresses CAPOL’s spirit and passion for enriching the world of candy and food colors the natural way. It was a real treat to speak with her and really, what more of an inspiration for young girls and women wanting to go into science could you ask for?