From artificial to natural, the food industry makes a major shift

February 12, 2014

Extracts from algae, rosemary and monk fruit could soon replace synthetic ingredients and food additives such as Blue No. 1, BHT and aspartame that label-conscious grocery shoppers are increasingly shunning. Research is enabling this shift from artificial colors, sweeteners and preservatives to naturally derived ones, and could soon yield many more natural options, reports Chemical & Engineering News, the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society.

Melody M. Bomgardner, senior editor at C&EN, notes that the trend has built momentum as concern over negative health effects of artificial ingredients and additives grows. Recent studies have suggested a link between some artificial colorings and hyperactivity in children. Others have suggested that certain synthetic preservatives may cause cancer in rodents. These results are sinking into the consumer psyche. By 2013, almost a quarter of U.S. consumers reported that they read food labels to check for artificial colors and flavors. That's 15 percent more than the year before. In Europe, regulations spurred a faster changeover and have largely driven the dramatic shift in global sales toward natural colors. In the $1.5 billion market, growth of the latter has overtaken synthetics, which have plateaued.

Now many food manufacturers are turning to colors derived from foods, such as turmeric; to new fermentation routes for natural yellows, reds and purple dyes; and to rosemary and monk fruit as a preservative and sweetener, respectively, the article states. Natural green and blue food colorings are harder to come by, but researchers are finding sources for these as well. Last summer, M&Ms candy maker Mars got the OK from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to color their blue treats with an extract from blue-green algae. Scientists are also investigating new natural ways to preserve meat, produce vanilla and sweeten foods without the calories.
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