From: Debra Goldberg, ENN
Published September 9, 2013 02:15 PM

Food and beverage dye going all-natural

As consumers are becoming more health-conscious and aware of chemical additives in their food, many are starting to stray away from anything that contains "unnatural" ingredients, including food and drink dyes. At the 246th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), this concern was one of the many topics discussed at the convention.

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Food dye manufacturers have taken notice of this new trend and have begun to resort back to traditional ways of food coloring. Instead of using synthetic colors and colors derived from beetles, manufacturers have turned to root crops such as purple sweet potatoes (PSPs), and black or purple carrots. Not only do these veggies contain the natural colors needed for food dye, but they also promise antioxidant-rich substances that may have health benefits.

According to Stephen T. Talcott, Ph.D., "The natural colors industry for foods and beverages is gaining in value as U.S. and international companies move towards sustainable and affordable crop alternatives to synthetic red colors and red colors derived from insects. In addition to adding eye appeal to foods and beverages, natural colorings add natural plant-based antioxidant compounds that may have a beneficial effect on health."

"PSP anthocyanins have proven to be among the best for food and beverage coloring," he said, such as "fruit drinks, vitamin waters, ice cream and yogurt. They are stable, for instance, and do not break down easily; have superior coloring properties; and have a relatively neutral taste (in contrast to the slightly earthy, bitter taste from grape-based colorings."

Additionally, PSP anthocyanins are easy to produce and are sustainable. Conversely, cochineal insects, which are used to produce synthetic food colorings and the "carmine" reds, feed on a certain type of cactus native to South America and Mexico. It takes about 2,500 bugs to produce one ounce of cochineal extract, used in ice creams, yogurts, candy, beverages, and other foods.

The only downside to PSPs anthocyanins is that they are difficult to extract. However, a new process for extraction is in the works to extract larger amounts of pigment from PSPs. Additionally, the starchy byproducts can be used as animal feed or raw material for biofuel production, making it a much more sustainable alternative for food coloring. This process could encourage development of a domestic natural food coloring industry.

Read more at American Chemical Society

Purple sweet potato image via Shutterstock.

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