Consumers in America have been taking more notice of their food and what is in it; seeking less processed products and more natural ingredients. One particular area of concern within synthetic ingredients includes artificial food dyes which give some fast food items, boxed mixes or other process foods like cereal bright or iconic colors.
As major restaurant chains and food companies scramble to follow customer demand, researchers are looking for diverse ways to incorporate natural colorants. While a variety of colors can easily be found in fruits and vegetables, the naturally occurring pigments are often unstable and lack the vivid shades of common artificial dyes.
At The Ohio State University, Ph.D. student, Peipei Tang, is working on a solution that may not only replace artificial colors but provide added health benefits to products that include the colorant. The target is anthocyanin, a natural pigment widely found in plants, that while a great for use in food products comes with its own set of challenges. The solution looks to come in the form of soybeans.
“Implementation of anthocyanin is currently a challenge because of high cost and its poor stability. The color of anthocyanin will fade over time with sensitivities to light, heat, and other factors it encounters in food production,” said Tang. “We are looking for alternative ways to make the color more intense and longer lasting.”
Tang is a previous recipient of an Ohio Soybean Council (OSC) Scholarship which gave him the opportunity to meet with OSC staff and propose this idea for funding.
The solution he is focused on incorporates isoflavones extracted from soybeans which have already been shown to have many health benefits but are not currently widely consumed in the American diet. Although soybean production is increasing, consumption of soy in America is very low compared to other countries, such as Asia. While soy is not widely consumed, some people have begun taking supplements to get the benefits of the isoflavones.
“We are hoping to incorporate those healthy ingredients into our food without trying to change eating habits. We have found that we can extract isoflavones from soybeans and create a companion to stabilize and intensify the anthocyanin pigments,” said Tang.
Research has already determined the important structure and factors that will influence the mixture of the two ingredients and the next stage will focus on real world application in food products. Tang indicated they will likely start with fruit juice and baking products to test the anthocyanin.
Globally, the natural food colors market is steadily growing and is estimated to reach $1.57 billion by 2019, increasing at approximately twice the rate of the synthetic food colors market. OSC is excited to support research that positions soybeans to be a part of the growing trend for healthy options in our food system.
Another added benefit to the soy industry is the opportunity to use soybean curd residue for isoflavone extraction. Currently, soybean curd residue – a by-product of soymilk and tofu production – is largely discarded and an alternative use provides additional value while being more environmentally friendly.