The race for a true, non-artificial blue continues with spirulina

18 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.”

The race for a true, non-artificial blue continues with spirulina

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.

Related categories

Related tags

Innovation Sustainability

Related news

Oman authorities put food security and sustainability centre stage with ‘transformative’ investments

Oman authorities put food security and sustainability centre stage with ‘transformative’ investments

21 Jul 2022

New technologies and initiatives to promote sustainable food systems, healthy diets and improved food and nutrition security have attracted the backing of authorities in the Gulf country Oman.

Read more 
Europe’s plant-based boom: Opportunities for brands

Europe’s plant-based boom: Opportunities for brands

6 Jul 2022

The plant-based alternative sector is rapidly expanding, in Europe and further afield. What are consumers demanding, and where do the opportunities lie for brands?

Read more 
Harnessing oat hulls to make sustainable sweeteners

Harnessing oat hulls to make sustainable sweeteners

30 Jun 2022

Finnish company Fazer is transforming the oat hull side streams from its existing oat mill into the low-calorie sweetener, xylitol.

Read more 
Parmesan partnership to put ‘blockchain ready’ digital chip on all cheese wheels

Parmesan partnership to put ‘blockchain ready’ digital chip on all cheese wheels

29 Jun 2022

A new line of food-safe and secure digital labels on each Parmigiano Reggiano cheese wheel will deliver previously unseen levels of traceability, product control, and quality assurance, says the Consorzio del Parmigiano Reggiano (CFPR).

Read more 
‘Game-changing’ tech such as automation and synthetic biotechnology the future for manufacturing, VTT predicts

‘Game-changing’ tech such as automation and synthetic biotechnology the future for manufacturing, VTT predicts

28 Jun 2022

“Game-changing technologies” such as synthetic biotechnology – combining engineering principles with biology in natural production processes – and more automation could revolutionise European food manufacturing, as well as for a host of other sectors i...

Read more 
World first: Dutch team develop method to extract high-value protein from tomato leaf

World first: Dutch team develop method to extract high-value protein from tomato leaf

27 Jun 2022

Tomato leaves that are currently seen as a major waste stream in horticulture could provide a reliable and sustainable source of rubisco – a widespread plant protein that has potential in food and drink, say researchers.

Read more 
Boom or bust: Are consumers ready for the alternative protein revolution?

Boom or bust: Are consumers ready for the alternative protein revolution?

24 Jun 2022

While excitement over alt-proteins is high among industry and investors, major challenges remain for companies looking to convince consumers to switch to a plant-based ‘meat alternative’.

Read more 
Mars launches animal-free chocolate with Perfect Day’s whey protein

Mars launches animal-free chocolate with Perfect Day’s whey protein

21 Jun 2022

Mars has launched a vegan chocolate bar made with biotech unicorn Perfect Day’s animal-free whey protein made via precision fermentation.

Read more 
Unilever in $120m biotech venture to scale palm oil alternative

Unilever in $120m biotech venture to scale palm oil alternative

20 Jun 2022

Unilever has teamed up with US biotech company Genomatica to commercialise its palm oil alternative produced via a biotechnology fermentation process.

Read more 
Clutch Cognition creates functional drinks with brain health botanicals

Clutch Cognition creates functional drinks with brain health botanicals

7 Jun 2022

Danish startup, Clutch Cognition, has entered the functional drinks space targeting cognitive health with a blend of botanicals and plant-based ingredients such as sage, green oat, green tea, and guar beans.

Read more