Natural blue dye found in cabbage could put an end to synthetic blues

A new discovery could put an end to synthetic blue food dye.
A new discovery could put an end to synthetic blue food dye. Copyright Canva
By Sabrina Fearon-Melville
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Researchers have discovered a natural blue dye found in cabbage which can be used instead of synthetic dye.


A natural blue dye has been created using cabbage and could be set to replace current artificial alternatives.

For years scientists have struggled to find a natural replacement for the artificial food colouring known as Brilliant Blue FCF - which, like many synthetic dyes, can be harmful to the environment.

After decades of research, a team at the University of California, along with researchers from across the globe may have found a solution to the problem of not having a natural blue dye.

Pamela Denish and her colleagues have discovered that a small quantity of the blue pigment needed to create blue dye is naturally present in red cabbage.

Denish and her team found that they could make larger quantities of the dye if they treated the molecules which were dominant and red-coloured and used a special enzyme to turn them blue.

Natural dyes are normally created from plants, fruits, vegetables or can be found in a number of biological sources like fungi.

Why are we moving away from synthetic dyes?

Brilliant Blue FCF, is a synthetic dye which can be found in a number of food products, including ice cream, sweets, canned peas and icing. It has also been known to be present in drinks and beauty products like mouthwash and shampoo.

While considered to be generally non-toxic, synthetic dyes have been known to be heavily absorbent and research shows that ingested dye can be found in the bloodstream after oral consumption.

Blue colouring can be extracted from red cabbage.Canva

Whether or not it’s safe to consume Brilliant Blue has been heavily debated by scientists for years. Research into the dye has deemed it safe enough to be present in food products within the EU, but only in limited quantities.

Natural dyes are far better for the environment than synthetic ones. Synthetic dyes pollute water supplies and many factories don’t remove pollutants prior to disposing of waste in rivers.

How will the dye be used?

The dye has so far, been used to colour ice-cream, doughnut icing and sugar-coated lentils. Natural dyes can also be used to colour fabric.

All test foods remained blue for 30 days in storage, meaning that dye has the potential to be used in other foods and will last.

The natural blue dye is still undergoing tests, but one of the research study’s authors, Kumi Yoshida from Nagoya University in Japan said, “Red cabbage anthocyanins have a long, long history in our diets,” and were unlikely to cause adverse health effects.

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