Scientists have pinpointed the purple sweet potato as a natural alternative for synthetic food dye. While you might be more familiar with the orange-fleshed variety, the purple-hued cousin could be key to the food industry's movement toward natural food coloring.
Dr. Talcott has been leading the research at Texas A&M University and presented his findings at a live presentation at the American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition. He explains that purple sweet potatoes are a "great natural alternative" because the pigment can be labeled as a vegetable juice and confer a lot of color at very low concentrations. Dr. Talcott is also exploring the natural pigment's potential health benefits of anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties.
However, the pigment can be difficult to extract due to the potato's hard texture, says Dr. Talcott. In addition, NPR reports that there is currently a low supply of purple sweet potatoes.
The recent trend of natural dyes in the food industry is largely driven by consumer demand, as people become wary of synthetic dyes and their potential (but not well-proven) link with hyperactivity and other health conditions in children, reports NPR. Other sources of natural dyes do exist including some unusual ones like red radishes, berries and cochineal beetles, says Dr. Talcott.
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