Innovation That Matters

Until now, the company have had difficulties finding natural colour alternatives | Photo source Sebastian Gómez on Unsplash

Natural blue food colour could replace existing artificial substitutes

Food & Drink

The discovery could provide a natural alternative to artificial colourants, and a solution to the long-standing blue dye challenge facing the food industry

Spotted: A research collaboration between ingredients makers Mars Wrigley and multiple universities around the globe has discovered a pigment in red cabbage that could be used to make a long-lasting and stable natural blue food colouring.

In February 2016, Mars announced a commitment to remove all artificial colours from its human food portfolio by February 2021. Until now, the company had difficulties finding natural colour alternatives that would appeal to consumers and that were available in large enough supplies. This mainly concerned its brightly coloured confectionery brands, such as M&Ms and Skittles.  

While Mars Wrigley’s rush for blue five years ago inspired them to work on blue colours from spirulina algae, the new red cabbage solution is said to be completely unique and could change the way many food companies make blues and greens. Synthetic biology and computational design tools were used to determine the structure of the pigment — referred to in the paper as P2.

The study was joined by Mars Advanced Research Institute (MARI); the University of California, Davis’ Innovation Institute for Food and Health; Ohio State University; Nagoya University in Japan; the University of Avignon in France; and SISSA University in Italy. It was funded by MARI and Mars Wrigley Science and Technology.

The paper, which was published in the Science Advances journal, explains what the pigment is, how it behaves and how it can be sourced. However, it is yet to examine P2 as a colouring in specific applications. 

The pigment’s limitations are still unknown and the colour also needs to undergo rigorous vetting and approval by the Food and Drug Administration and other national governmental entities, to ensure its safety.

Written By: Katrina Lane

Explore more: Food & Drink Innovations | Science Innovations

Email: yoshidak@i.nagoya-u.ac.jp

Website: advances.sciencemag.org

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