New Blue Pigment Found In Red Cabbage Could Replace Synthetic Food Dye

Apr 08, 2021 07:08 AM EDT | By Erika Dee (

New Blue Pigment Found In Red Cabbage Could Replace Synthetic Food Dye
Natural blue pigment so hard to find.
(Photo : Photo by cottonbro from Pexels)

Scientists have long sought a natural alternative to artificial blue food coloring to no avail until now. But what they are looking for was just right under their noses! It seems that a blue pigment in red cabbage appears more than capable of doing the job. 

The Quest of Natural Blue Food Dye

For years, scientists no longer know where to look for blue pigments. They are rarely found in common natural resources such as plants and rocks. This is why for so long, the majority of blue products that the world has to contend with, even the drinks, drug tablets, cosmetics, and clothing, have to be manufactured by using synthetic blue dyes and not natural ones.

Synthetic is considered hazardous compared to natural dye, but the world cannot do anything about it for years. Synthetic dyes are usually made from petrochemicals, which led some to worry about them being ingested or consumed as food additives.

According to Rebecca Robbins of Mars Wrigley Global Innovation Center in the United States, the color blue has been hard to find in nature or so uncommon in nature because complicated molecular structures are necessary to absorb the right wavelengths of light to provide it a blue appearance. 

"It takes quite a [few] specific molecular features," she explained. 

Natural Blue Food Dye Can be Sourced From Red Cabbages

Even though it seemed futile, scientists have nevertheless strived to look for natural blue alternatives. This year is their lucky year as Pamela Denish of the University of California-Davis, and some of her colleagues, including Robbins, found that a pigment in red cabbage can become the perfect artificial food coloring "Brilliant Blue FCF" or "E133," as reported by New Scientist. 

This natural pigment is a type of anthocyanin molecule. The only downside is that this pigment is only present in small amounts of red cabbage. Scientists, however, would not let this small detail deter them.

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The researchers claimed that they could make larger quantities of this pigment by treating the dominant red-colored anthocyanins present in red cabbage with a specially designed enzyme so they can all turn blue. 

To know if this blue pigment can work as a natural food dye, they experimented and used it to make blue ice cream, doughnut icing, as well as sugar-coated lentils. 

The results were quite promising. The products maintained their blue color while being stored for a whole month or 30 days in ambient conditions.

The researchers, however, claimed that more safety testing must be performed before the natural blue dye can be used en masse in making blue-colored foods. However, Kumi Yoshida at Nagoya University in Japan, one of the researchers, asserted it is unlikely to have adverse health effects. This is one worry crossed off. 

"Red cabbage anthocyanins have a long, long history in our diets," she explained. The findings made by the researchers were published on April 7 in Science Advances

The reason why so many tests are still needed is because food additives are always a topic of contention. Even though artificial colorings have long been used, the debates on whether they are really safe had never really stopped. 

Even though food additives usually have to pass a range of safety tests, one can never really be too complacent about consuming something synthetic. 

Some health risks related to the consumption of artificial food additives include and are not limited to allergies, worse asthmatic symptoms, abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhea. 

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