Spirulina may simplify quest for naturally sourced colors

by Jeff Gelski
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Spirulina gummy bears
The trend of replacing synthetic colors with naturally sourced colors has influenced the confectionery category.

KANSAS CITY — When working with colors, achieving a simple ingredient list in products is not that simple.

“The ingredients, they may be simple, but they are not easy, and the solutions are not easy,” said Marcus Volkert, Ph.D., manager application R.&D. for the GNT Group, June 26 at IFT17, the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition in Las Vegas.

Colors from natural sources may lead to issues such as color loss and sedimentation when they take the place of synthetic colors. Successful replacements are coming in the forms of spirulina extracts, in place of blue No. 1, and turmeric, in place of yellow No. 5 or yellow No. 6.

Spirulina, a blue-green algae, is a dried biomass that may be turned into spirulina concentrate, an aqueous solution, Dr. Volkert said. Working with spirulina may lead to two significant defects, color loss and agglomeration, but researchers are finding ways to avoid those outcomes.

“If you look at the use of spirulina extracts over the last 10 years, it has evolved extremely,” he said.

Confectionery applications and pectin jellies now work well with spirulina, he said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2014 approved a color additive petition from the GNT Group that expanded the use of spirulina extract as a blue coloring ingredient in food and beverage applications. The amended regulation allows for the safe use of spirulina extract in confections (including candy and chewing gum), frostings, ice cream and frozen desserts, dessert coatings and toppings, beverage mixes and powders, yogurts, custards, puddings, cottage cheese, gelatin, breadcrumbs, and ready-to-eat cereals (excluding extruded cereals).

The GNT Group in 2016 started constructing an additional spirulina plant at its headquarters in Mierlo, The Netherlands. The expansion will more than double GNT’s capacity for blue and green coloring for foods.

Naturex, Avignon, France, turned to spirulina to color the blue ice bars at its booth during IFT17. Vegetable juice colored red ice bars, and turmeric colored yellow ice bars. Naturex offers miChroma Turmeric OC LWD that contains 10% pigment for an intense yellow color. The extract may be added to an array of applications, including sauces, snacks, sweets, ice cream and baked foods.

Blending spirulina and turmeric may create a bright green color, added Nathalie Pauleau-Laurey, business manager, NATcolor for Naturex.

Tomatoes and purple corn are other natural sources of color.

Recent tests showed both Tomat-O-Red and Lyc-O-Beta, two tomato-based ingredients from Lycored, performed well in sparkling flavored waters as they demonstrated resistance to fading and ringing, and they also helped with sedimentation problems, according to the company, which has a U.S. office in Orange, N.J.

DDW, Louisville, Ky., now offers a red color derived from a purple corn hybrid cultivated in the United States. The anthocyanin color may be labeled as “vegetable juice for color.” Potential applications include vitamin-enhanced waters or sports drinks, hard candies, and gummies/jellies. Healthy Food Ingredients, Fargo, N.D., offers a color from Suntava purple corn that contains anthocyanins, polyphenols and other antioxidants.

Sethness Products Co., Skokie, Ill., offers clean label caramel color options, including those that are gluten-free, allergen-free, organic and Non-GMO Project verified.

Grand View Research, San Francisco, in a report released this January said it expects the global market for naturally sourced food colors to reach $2.5 billion by 2025 as the colors continue to appear in such applications as beverages, baked foods and confectionery.

“High dependence on raw materials such as fruits, vegetables and spices, coupled with substantial price fluctuations of the aforementioned products, is expected to act as a major deterrent for market growth,” the report said. “However, the rise in investments in research and development to increase the production efficiency is expected to drive the demand over the forecast period.”

Naturally sourced colors are part of a larger movement in which consumers desire recognizable ingredients. The International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2017 Food and Health Survey asked respondents how they defined a healthy eating style. Forty per cent listed limited or no artificial ingredients or preservatives among their top three selections, and 12% listed that response as their top selection.

The GNT Group will continue to invest in colors sourced from fruits and vegetables as consumers seek recognizable sources of color.

“They want an ingredient that they understand, that they recognize and, taking it to the extreme, that doesn’t need a claim,” Dr. Volkert said. “It’s a really simple ingredient that you don’t need to explain. A carrot doesn’t need an explanation.

“I think we are ready to take the challenge and drive our scientists into developing transparent solutions that actually meet consumers’ needs.”

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