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ago 02, 2017

Tropical Brazilian fruits could soon replace food dyes

Nutritionists have spent decades decrying the additives and food dyes found in processed food. And in recent years, children and the elderly have had particularly adverse reactions to dyes in foods, such as those found in flavoured yoghurts. Now, scientists from the Brazilian Agricultural Research Company (Embrapa) are on the verge of providing a solution using tropical fruits found exclusively in Brazil.

After more than five years of research, Embrapa’s scientists have been able to develop natural food dyes using jabuticaba, jambu and jamelão. Using the dried skins of these fruits, Embrapa has been able to create powdered colorings that can be used in a range of foods. The fruits’ diversity allows it to produce a variety of different shades, from red to to blue and purple.

Even better, the dyes from jabuticaba, jambu and jamelão are rich in anthocyanins, and therefore actually provide health benefits. Anthocyanins have become a sought-after flavonoid in recent years, in part thanks to their high anti-oxidant count.

Embrapa’s researchers are working with scientists at the Institute of Food Research to define the anthocyanins in these three fruits, some of which are not found elsewhere in nature, to determine how much of their benefits can be absorbed by the human body.

Renata Borguini, a researcher at Embrapa, acknowledges that while the quantity of natural colorants used in foods is likely too small to deliver any noticeable health benefits, they are significantly better than synthetic dyes.

“We believe that, in truth, these synthetic dyes present a toxicity,” she said, of food dyes used in Brazil that are banned elsewhere in the world. “This substitute is much-needed. Today, there is space in the market for it.”

Natural food dyes are particularly in demand within the food sector, especially in countries such as the United States. Consumer groups in the US and Europe have forced the industry to avoid certain artificial dyes after they were linked to allergies, hyperactivity and cancer.

However, consumer patterns indicate that color and aesthetic appearance is still a selling point for food products – which is exactly why Embrapa’s research has the potential to stimulate new agribusiness growth in Brazil.

“Strawberry yoghurt, for example, without dye, doesn’t look like strawberry yoghurt,” Borguini explains. Without that rosy pink color, strawberry yogurt “isn’t accepted by the population,” she says.

Embrapa’s scientists will now start industrial validation studies to see how long it could take for such products to reach the market. Processing the fruits to create dyes is a simple and low-cost process, meaning that Embrapa’s initiative has much potential for expansion.

The powdered natural dyes also a utility beyond the food sector, with potential in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries as well.