“Slingin’ the Blues”

11 November, 2014

The following excerpts were taken from the article Slingin’ the Blues by Kimberley J. Decker, ingredients editor, Dairy Foods Magazine, September 2014. To read the entire article, please visit http://www.dairyfoods.com/articles/90696-slingin-the-blues-with-spirulina-extract

[two_third]For years, dairy formulators had few FDA-approved naturally derived color options in the green-blue-purple range. That has changed with the allowable use of spirulina extract.

The food and beverage industry whizzed past a major milestone in 2011, when for the first time ever the global value of the natural colorants market exceeded that of its synthetic counterparts. According to a 2013 report from Mintel and Leatherhead Food Research, natural colors raked in an estimated $600 million in 2011 — an increase of almost 29% from 2007. Compare that to a 4% increase for artificial colors (to about $570 million) over the same period.

The numbers add yet another brick to the mounting wall of evidence that natural colorants — or, more accurately, colorants exempt from Food and Drug Administration certification for use in foods, drugs and cosmetics — are, in fact, the industry’s “new normal.” Mintel and Leatherhead pegged the use of naturals versus synthetics in new food and beverage launches at 2 to 1 globally and foresee the natural tilt continuing, especially in premium products and those geared toward children.

Yet even as natural colorants have overtaken synthetics, they’ve done so while lacking a considerable chunk of the color spectrum within their ranks. To wit, the food and beverage industry for years had few, if any, FDA-approved, naturally derived and reliably stable color options in the green-blue-purple range.[/two_third]

[one_third]spirulina ice cream in bowl small[/one_third]

[full_width]All that changed earlier this year when the FDA approved a color additive petition…and in so doing expanded the allowable use of spirulina extract as a natural blue colorant to applications well beyond candy and chewing gum where it had already been permitted. Once the ruling went into effect on May 13, spirulina extract became fair game in everything from frostings, ice cream and frozen desserts to dessert coatings and toppings, beverage mixes and powders, yogurts, custards, puddings, cottage cheese, gelatins and other foods.[/full_width]

The colorant from the blue lagoon

Spirulina’s value as a nutriment comes from its concentrated protein, vitamin and mineral content, which helps explain why it’s a perennial in nutritional bar and supplement formulations.

But its value as a food coloring comes from the chlorophyll and phycobilin pigments that spirulina uses to absorb sunlight during photosynthesis, said Jody Renner-Nantz, senior application scientist, DDW, Louisville, Ky. “The phycobilins found in spirulina are phycocyanins, which are blue, and together with the chlorophyll, which is green, give spirulina in raw form its characteristic blue-green color,” she said.

By extracting and concentrating these pigments from the dried spirulina biomass, processors produce the “natural” colorant that FDA just approved and that European food manufacturers have been using for some time.

Changing the palette

To achieve such hues in the past, manufacturers’ best options were the two FDA-approved synthetic blue dyes, FD&C Blue No. 1 (Brilliant Blue FCF) and FD&C Blue No. 2 (Indigotine). Both gave blues of varying shades and broad stability. And combined with yellows and reds, they allowed for the creation of appealing greens and purples, too.

Spirulina also significantly expands the shades we can achieve “naturally.” As Renner-Nantz said, “Spirulina may possibly substitute for FD&C Blue No. 1 to ‘whiten’ cottage cheese.” And because blue is a “critical building block” for green, black and purple, she added, spirulina now lets us build those colors naturally. “The key is selecting the appropriate second or third color to achieve the desired hue in a blend.”

Bringing Spirulina to life

DDW recently developed a liquid spirulina “that demonstrates greater light stability than the conventional spirulina in the marketplace,” said Renner-Nantz.

She suggests adding liquid spirulina after heat processing to maintain the colorant’s vibrancy in the face of high temperatures, for example post-pasteurization during ice-cream production.

Spirulina may be today’s big natural-colorant story, but it’s not the only one. Consider
the level of sophistication in today’s carotenoid colorants.

Renner-Nantz notes that she and her colleagues are “exploiting the limits of solubility” in water-dispersible beta-carotene products that “demonstrate pink hues in milk or ice cream for a strawberry appearance.”

The natural way forward

A growing segment of consumers insist upon naturally colored foods and beverages. One study found that 67% of health-conscious consumers read product labels to review the ingredients that color their foods or beverages. Those label readers deserve significant credit for driving natural color sales to their current level.

“Ice cream manufacturers might want to add liquid spirulina postpasteurization to maintain the colorant’s vibrancy, said Jody Renner-Nantz, a senior application scientist at DDW.”

“Blue is a “critical building block” for green, black and purple. “The key is selecting the appropriate second or third color to achieve the desired hue in a blend,” said Jody Renner-Nantz, a senior application scientist at DDW. Photo courtesy of DDW.”

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