12 February 2018
The challenges of blue
Natural food colouring is no longer a future trend but an actual reality. Blue has been one of the most challenging colours to master, but an excellent solution has been found in a tiny organism
In the world of 100% natural food colouring, blue has been one of the most challenging colours to master, with irregularities in both shading and stability, depending on the application. For this reason, synthetic Brilliant Blue was still used in 67% of food and drink launches from 2014 to 2015 including blue or green. As the uptake and harmonisation of natural food colours gain ground, manufacturers are looking for innovative blue solutions with a large geographic footprint. Colours available only in certain regions today, could thus gain worldwide regulatory status in the near future. Blue, combined with yellow, also opens the door to natural greens – another important colour for the food and drink industry.
The wonders of blue spirulina
Spirulina is a blue-green microalgae (Arthrospira platensis), originally discovered in the alkaline lakes of South America and Africa. It was traditionally part of the Aztec and Kanem diets in centuries past. As modernity arrived and natural habitats disappeared, spirulina fell somewhat into oblivion until a gradual renaissance over the last 3-4 decades. Today, Spirulina is grown and harvested in sustainable aquatic farms across the world.
The microalgae family counts around 40,000 strains. These tiny organisms have been around for millions of years, evolving into robust and adaptable species that rely on sunshine and a relatively limited amount of water to thrive and rapidly multiply. Spirulina has a great water-soluble phycocyanin pigment that gives it a vibrant blue colour. The original biomass is water extracted and filtered, resulting in an aqueous extract that holds the bright blue colour.
Spirulina is gently processed to respect the raw material and the environment and ensure a superior blue colour extract. Cold extraction and concentration also work to preserve the colour intensity. The aqueous extract is standardised to guarantee consistency and stability for industrial applications and may finally be dried, providing both powder and liquid concentrates.
Combined with a natural yellow such as Safflower or Turmeric extract (curcumin), it produces shades of green; and with a red such as Black carrot, it produces shades of purple, making it perfect for confectionery. Spirulina is also suitable for colouring bakery decoration, confectionery coating, ice-cream and water ice, and instant drinks.
The use of Blue Spirulina has taken off in a big way in recent years, and it is especially popular in applications such as confectionery and ice cream.
Spirulina’s well-deserved reputation as a vibrant, versatile and clean natural colour has been steadily growing. Mintel research estimates that new product launches containing Spirulina extracts rose by 80% between 2014 and 2015. Continuing its leadership in the uptake of innovative natural colours, nearly 80% of the new products containing Spirulina were launched in the European region. In Europe and Scandinavia, Spirulina benefits from a colouring foodstuff classification.
Naturex’s VegeBrite ranges offer various shades of colouring foodstuffs and are produced exclusively from concentrates of fruits, vegetables, edible flowers, and algae, using a gentle and simple process.