Scientists hail long-awaited discovery of naturally derived cyan blue colourant

Scientists at the University of California, Davis say they have developed a naturally derived cyan blue colorant made from anthocyanin pigments – the pigments that give red, purple, and blue plants their rich colouring – in red cabbage.  

According to the researchers, the new colour – made using an enzyme to convert a range of anthocyanins to one with the ideal wavelength – remains highly stable over time and may also produce better green colours than those derived from existing natural blue colorants and in larger amounts.

The discovery is the result of nearly two decades of research at the Mars Advanced Research Institute and Mars Wrigley Science and Technology, in collaboration with the UC Davis Innovation Institute for Food and Health; the Ohio State University; Nagoya University in Japan; the University of Avignon in France; and SISSA University in Italy.


The new colour made into a blue candy coating and blended with natural yellow for a ‘vibrant green’. Image: Randall Powers/Mars Wrigley Global Innovation Center

The project’s previous experiments revealed that red cabbage anthocyanins produce a vibrant blue colour in a pH-neutral solution. But this colour was deemed too violet to replace artificial blue dye. They then focussed on Peak 2 (P2), a minor mono-acylated anthocyanin that contributes less than 5% of red cabbage’s total anthocyanin content, which produced the desired blue colour. What’s more, while many naturally sourced colorants, including anthocyanins, have limited stability over time, the researchers claim the colour “showed remarkable stability in sugar syrup over 55 days with only a 14% loss of colour”.

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