Vegetable derived food colours take preference over synthetics

In response to consumer preferences, food manufacturers are increasingly looking to source naturally occurring colours from vegetables including purple sweet potatoes, as opposed to synthetic colours and those derived from beetles.

Research conducted by a host of scientists including Stephen T. Talcott, Ph.D, was presented at the 246th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, (ACS) in Indianapolis on Sunday.

Speakers at the event highlighted the benefits of reverting back to using natural colours including evidence suggesting that these natural antioxidant-rich colours derived from vegetables including purple sweet potatoes, black and purple carrots and other heirloom vegetables, may have health benefits in addition being a vibrant colour enhancer.

“The natural colours 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 colours and red colours derived from insects,” said Talcott.

“In addition to adding eye appeal to foods and beverages, natural colourings add natural plant-based antioxidant compounds that may have a beneficial effect on health.”

Talcott says that a range of colours from light pink to rose, red and deep purple can all be obtained through the use of pigments in purple sweet potatoes called PSPs anthocyanins.

Talcott says that PSP anthocyanins have proven to be amongst the best food and beverage colorants on the market for the food and beverage industry, in particular for fruit drinks, vitamin waters, ice cream and yoghurt. He credits their popularity stable nature of the colours (they do not break down easily), coupled with superior colouring properties and a relatively neutral taste.

The only downside that Talcott mentions is that PSP anthocyanins are quite difficult to extract.

Talcott spoke of the development of a new process that extracts larger quantities of the pigment from purple sweet potatoes and that by-products from this new process which includes starch and fibre could be used as compost, animal feed or for biofuel production amongst other applications.

He says that such developments could reduce the country’s reliance on imported natural food colourings, and instead promote the development of a domestic natural food colouring industry where certain crops would be devoted to producing vegetables used specially for that purpose.


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