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Companies collab on natural ingredients, aim to replace banned ingredients

Phytolon and Ginkgo Bioworks created a range of natural betalain pigments spanning from yellow to purple, offering a sustainable and efficient replacement for synthetic Red No. 3 in various food categories, with potential FDA approval pending.

Cindy Hazen

February 5, 2024

2 Min Read
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At a Glance

  • Scientists developed a natural and affordable replacement for the artificial color Red No. 3 using betalain pigments.
  • This new colorant covers the entire yellow-to-purple spectrum and can be used in various food products.
  • The production process is sustainable, with lower environmental impact compared to traditional methods.

A natural replacement for the much-maligned synthetic color Red No. 3 is on the horizon with the advancement of betalain pigments spanning the entire yellow-to-purple spectrum. Phytolon, a natural color company, collaborated with Ginkgo Bioworks Inc., a Boston-based company with a platform for cell programming, to achieve this milestone. This two-year endeavor has improved the efficiency of Phytolon’s yeast strains to produce these colors at an affordable cost to replace synthetic colors.

The assurance of consistent and robust production of natural replacements for dyes comes at a time when industry is pressed to find a brilliant replacement for Red No. 3. This artificial color is banned in California. Bills to prohibit its use are in the legislatures of New York and Illinois.

“The reddish-pinkish shade of Red No. 3 can be obtained by blending our Beetroot Red and Prickly Pear Yellow pigment at the right ratio, followed by fine-tuning the intensity inside the food product to retain its visual identity,” Halim Jubran, Ph.D., co-founder and CEO of Phytolon Ltd., said. “We have succeeded in demonstrating this in a few applications.”

The ability to obtain the full range between purple and yellow, including all shade variations of purple, pink, red, orange and yellow, presents new possibilities for formulating naturally. “To date, the colors show great potential to efficiently replace synthetic dyes in most brands within major food categories such as savory, dairy, ice cream, confectionary and baked goods,” Jubran said.

Sustainability is another advantage. “The input to execute our fermentation-based manufacturing mainly consists of energy and sugar,” he explained. “Due to the high efficiency, a significant saving in land reduction in greenhouse gases and carbon footprint are expected, compared to agriculture-based manufacturing of plant extracts that are currently used to replace synthetic dyes in the market. Fermentation also removed supply chain barriers and complexities behind agriculture-derived material, due to the independence of seasons, land conditions and geographies.”

These colors are subject to FDA approval as a color additive. Jubran said manufacturers in the U.S. can order large or small samples of these colors that are produced in food grade standard at scale for piloting purposes.

Phytolon has a distribution agreement with the business unit of dsm-firmenich. The venturing arm of dsm-firmenich, dsm-firmenich venturing, invested in Phytolon in Round A and became an official partner/shareholder.

About the Author(s)

Cindy Hazen

Contributing editor

Cindy Hazen has more than 25 years of experience developing seasonings, dry blends, beverages and more. Today, when not writing or consulting, she expands her knowledge of food safety as a food safety officer for a Memphis-based produce distributor.

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