The race for a true, non-artificial blue continues with spirulina18 Mar 2022
The colour blue has proven difficult to recreate using natural sources. However, manufacturers have continued to innovate around the challenge of producing a natural, vibrant blue, and the latest addition to the space is a spirulina-based shade from the Israeli food tech company Gavan.
Using a proprietary technology, Gavan produced a blue colouring for hot and cold beverages. According to a press release sent to Ingredients Network, this new colorant is an “entirely natural, pure blue that … holds up under high-heat processing and in low pH, enabling full pasteurisation.”
A natural blue that holds up to manufacturing pressures
Producing a natural blue has been a tricky process for manufacturers in recent years. In nature, this shade is rare, and when it is seen, it often means poison. Even foods that are typically associated with the colour blue — like blueberries — are actually a shade of purple. Spirulina is one of the rare sources of a natural blue, and it has attracted a lot of attention over the last decade. But this popularity has not come without its challenges.
Heat treatment can impact spirulina-derived colour, and any shift in the pH can impair the stablility of the colour. “The main barrier to creating food formulations with natural colours is stability—the ability to overcome formulation challenges and ensure vibrant and consistent true blue throughout the product’s shelf life,” Yael Leader, head of product for Gavan said. Gavan says that its new spirulina-derived blue will remain vibrant, even at pH as low as 3.0.
In addition to colour instability and difficulties with consistent colour application across products, the global availability of spirulina risks limiting its potential. When the Food and Drug Administration gave the green light to candy manufacturer Mars to use the algae spirulina to make the first natural blue dye in 2013, the company was quoted in the New York Times saying that in order to switch just the blue of its M&Ms to a spirulina-based alternative, it would "need twice the current global supply" of the plant.
Gavan said it was not worried that global supply would artificially limit its ability to grow into a competitive blue colouring alternative. Itai Cohen, CEO and co-founder of Gavan told Ingredients Network that “spirulina availability is limited mostly by the demand in the market…Given the right interface and functional traits, global supply can increase very quickly to accommodate the demand. Spirulina producers are able to provide stable and continuous supply throughout the year, with minimal dependency on climate conditions.”
The wild blue yonder: alternative sources of potential blue abound
However, spirulina is not the only option that manufacturers now have to avoid using the synthetic shades of Blue 1 and Blue 2. Last year, scientists synthesised a blue colouring alternative derived from red cabbage that was “nearly identical” to Blue No. 1. Butterfly pea flower presents another alternative; this ingredient is popular in Southeast Asia as an herbal beverage but is sensitive to pH changes. There is also huito, a tropical fruit that ADM turned into a natural blue colourant and patented.
Regardless of the source for natural blue, manufacturers will need to be mindful of its final hue. Nearly all shoppers are influenced by colour. Ninety percent will register a product’s colour as a perceived taste, which will determine whether they will purchase the product, according to a study by Emerald Insights. And this is a worldwide phenomenon. In China, three out of 10 consumers say attractive colours encourage them to try a beverage and nearly a third of consumers say it is important that snacks are ‘visually impressive,’ according to Mintel research.
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