Beta-carotene, the better and healthy way to food colouring

Lars Bjørn Rasmussen looks at the uses of Beta-carotene, nature's most abundant carotenoid.

Beta-carotene, nature's most abundant carotenoid, is probably best known for the orange colour it gives to carrots. Generally carotenoids are found in fruits and vegetables where they are responsible for the yellow-red colours. Although it theoretically could be extracted from carrots, most commercially available Beta-carotene is manufactured synthetically ­ but the material is still nature-identical.

The synthetic process provides great control of all the ingredients that eventually make up the Beta-carotene crystals, and thereby eliminates potential contaminants. Besides, the end product is pure Beta-carotene, and not a mixture of different carotenoids. These factors are important reasons why minimal batch variations are encountered, which ensure the same colour shade over and over again.

Beta-carotene is widely used in the food industry, where it provides appetising yellow-orange colours to beverages, margarines, cheeses, cake fillings, custards, yogurts, etc. Besides a vitamin A claim can be made to these products, since Beta-carotene is also known as

Pro-vitamin A. This positive attribute of Beta-carotene, combined with stable production-friendly formulations, makes this ingredient the perfect choice of colourant.

Beta-carotene is also known to be a powerful physiological antioxidant. Numerous studies have shown its beneficial effects in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, and certain cancer forms. However, consumer awareness in Europe is rather limited compared to the USA, and the industry participants could significantly benefit from an increased focus on consumer education.

Beta-carotene crystals are difficult to handle for the food manufacturer due to their instable nature. This is why

Beta-carotene manufacturers like Allied Biotech Corporation have developed convenient, stable, and BSE/GMO-free delivery forms that address the market needs. Suspensions consist of Beta-carotene crystals diluted and suspended in vegetable oils. They are added to products with a fat phase ie margarines, popcorn oils, and dressings.

Powders are made of spray dried Beta-carotene emulsions, which are soluble in cold water. Their main usages are beverages, cake mixes, custards, yogurts, nutrition bars, and instant drink mixes.

Finally, high potency emulsions are Beta-carotene emulsified in oil and water, which are readily miscible with water. These products were originally developed for beverage manufacturers who preferred Beta-carotene on liquid form rather than powders. However, the emulsions have since found their usage in other water based products like yogurts and custards as well.

Despite the obvious benefits of Beta-carotene it is still to a certain degree competing against artificial colours ie sunset yellow and tartrazine. One of the arguments for these products has been their relative low cost. However, in order to make a fair comparison, it is important to note that studies have shown that Beta-carotene can match these colours at concentrations five to six times less.

More importantly, where Beta-carotene has a healthy and positive image, the artificial colours provides no added benefits, and they are associated with increasing health concerns 1,2. Some of them have even been banned in certain countries.

Therefore, food manufactures that are either, a) introducing a new product line or b) looking for a long-term healthy colorant or c) looking to revamp their existing product line with a healthier image, should look for Beta-carotene as their ingredient of choice.

The European Beta-carotene market is estimated at about US0million, and is conservatively predicted a relative slow but steady growth rate of 2percent.

Lars Bjørn Rasmussen is with Allied Biotech Corporation based in Tappernøje, Denmark.

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