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Why Food Scientists Are Excited About A Natural Blue Food Dye

Lana BandoimContributorFood & DrinkI write about food tech and science.

Blue pigment.
Blue pigment. GETTY

Since people tend to eat with their eyes first, the visual appearance of food matters. Food dyes have the ability to transform plain substances into intriguing creations that entice your eyes and encourage you to take a bite. Now, researchers have discovered a new brilliant blue coloring that could be a natural alternative to synthetic dyes.

The Search for a Brilliant Blue Food Dye

The demand for natural food coloring is growing because consumers are concerned about synthetic dyes and the impact on their health. The natural food colors market is expected to be worth $3.2 billion by 2027.  There are ongoing searches in the industry for brilliant food dyes that are also natural, such as cyan blue.

Natural food dyes often come from vegetables and fruits, but a true blue is more difficult to obtain compared to other colors. Researchers at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), explain that the blue dyes people usually see in food are actually red or purple.

The discovery of a new cyan blue coloring, which researchers obtained from red cabbage, creates different opportunities. It could become an alternative to synthetic colorings, such as brilliant blue FD&C Blue No. 1. The cyan blue could also be mixed with other natural dyes to make more vibrant colors.

How Red Cabbage Produced a Blue Dye

Red cabbage contains anthocyanins, which are water-soluble pigments. Blue anthocyanins exist in small amounts inside red cabbage, so it does not make commercial sense to attempt to extract them for the food industry. However, researchers used enzymes to convert other anthocyanins in red cabbage to the blue color. This allowed them to extract large quantities of the blue coloring.  

Two of the researchers involved in the discovery from UC Davis, Pamela Denish and Justin Siege, created a startup called Peak B to explore commercial applications for the food dye. Mars Advanced Research Institute and Mars Wrigley Science and Technology were also involved in the research process.

Are Natural Food Dyes Better?

Despite approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the use of synthetic food dyes is controversial. For example, FD&C Blue No. 1 used to be made from coal tar but is now usually obtained from an oil base.

The water-soluble artificial blue dye FD&C Blue No. 1 appears in many products ranging from cake to medications. Studies have looked at concerns that the artificial dye may increase the risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, but the FDA considers it safe.

However, consumer demand for natural food dyes will continue to challenge the industry and push for more innovations that could replace synthetic pigments

Lana Bandoim
I am a freelance writer and editor with more than a decade of experience. My work has appeared on Yahoo! News, Business Insider, The Huffington Post, The Week, MSN Money… Read More

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