When you look at a Shamrock shake or a slice of red velvet cake, the vivid colours pique your interest as much as the memory of the taste. Our eyes play a big part in our appetites. Yet without additional food colouring, you risk serving up a bland alimentary experience. Though the formulator industry once relied upon artificial food colouring in products, consumer expectations have shifted. What’s caused the change? And can seaweed provide a cost-effective, natural food colouring to replace some of the artificial alternatives? Here’s what you need to know:
Down with Synthetics
Artificial food colouring has a long storied history. The industrial era introduced artificial colouring to our diets, some safe and some not (thank your lucky stars you’re not drinking milk thickened with lead). As a result, government agencies enacted some consumer protections.
Yet not until changing consumer attitudes and the recall of consumer products with Red Dye No. 2, did the average person begin to think about what’s colouring their food. Now, the growing demand for all-natural, non-GMO foods paired with various bans on artificial food colourants throughout the U.S. and EU have lowered their global appeal.
A Return to Natural Food Colouring
Yet there’s a problem: consumers have been conditioned to crave colourful food their whole lives. Unwrapping the package of a favorite snack or food to find various browns instead of a rainbow of colours will only result in disappointment. A range of edible alternatives exists to liven up your products, but seaweed is proving to be a strong choice for a fair portion of the colour wheel.
The functional food industry is already espousing the health benefits of seaweeds but the potency of various species as natural food colouring is equally strong. Red, brown and green algae species in particular open up your options thanks to two key pigments:
- Chlorophyll (the pigment essential for photosynthesis) produces rich greens
- Carotenoids biosynthesize yellows, oranges and red colours come from specialized protein pigments (phycobiliproteins) found in red seaweeds
With the right extraction techniques, formulators can capture those aesthetically pleasing colours from the seaweed fronds and imbue them in products consumers want.
Searching Land and Sea
But is the seaweed worth the squeeze? There are plenty of terrestrial plants (spinach for greens, carrots for oranges) capable of replicating the same pigments. Danish researcher Johan Andersen-Ranberg thinks so. He’s experimenting with using seaweed on a larger scale to produce richer oranges for cheeses or orange candies. He argues terrestrial plants require more resources and attention to grow than marine plants. Seaweed is supplied all of the water and sun it needs within its natural habitat.
With wild-harvested and cultivated seaweed such as found at Acadian SeaPlus™, there’s a potential to have your (red velvet) cake – and for consumers to eat it too.