YOKNEAM ILLIT, ISRAEL — Phytolon, a food technology company making natural food colorants, is partnering with Ginkgo Bioworks, a horizontal platform for cell programming, to produce cultured food colors via fermentation of yeast.

The partnership will see the companies work together to produce betalain pigments, the colorful compounds found in foods like beets and cactus fruit.

Scientists have developed hundreds of artificial food dyes using synthetic chemistry, but biotechnology may be the key to producing more sustainable yet equally vibrant colors, according to the companies. While artificial dyes are visually appealing and cheap to manufacture, many have been banned in food and feed due to health concerns.

As consumers increasingly seek out more sustainable and nature-derived products, the food industry is working to find food colors that have equivalent pigment vibrancy to those found in synthetic chemical dyes but come from biological rather than petrochemical sources, said Tal Zeltzer, co-founder and chief technology officer at Phytolon.

“We’re excited to work with Ginkgo to develop natural food colors that can potentially outperform conventional artificial dyes in cost and performance,” Ms. Zeltzer said. “We believe biotechnology makes it possible to produce a wider range of colors than ever before that may outperform current benchmark colorants, and we look forward to building products that may meet and even exceed consumer expectations for healthier, sustainable foods, all while aiming to maintain industry requirements for high quality and cost-efficiency.”

The Israeli startup developed a proprietary process for producing betalain pigments through precision fermentation of certain yeast strains. It will work with Boston-based Ginkgo to maximize the production efficiency of purple and yellow betalain-producing strains.   

“We love enabling growing startups like Phytolon through our platform, using biotechnology to challenge industry norms and attempt to build a fundamentally better product than what’s on the market today,” said Jennifer Wipf, head of commercial, cell engineering at Ginkgo Bioworks. “The planet needs new sustainable solutions, and we are excited to partner with Phytolon to support a more sustainable food system.”