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Natural pigments from fungi minimize variability.

The approval of fungal carotenoids as food colorants by the European Union has strengthened the prospects for using fungi to produce polyketide pigments. Moreover, legislation adopted by the European Parliament states that foods containing synthetic colorants must carry a label indicating the product may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.

The biosynthesis of natural colorants from fungi could ensure that colorant production is accomplished under controlled conditions in bioreactors that make the colorant manufacturer independent from the external, seasonal supply of raw materials. Biosynthesis also can minimize batch-to-batch variations.

Fungal pigments are generally biosynthesized as secondary products during metabolism. Such secondary metabolites are known as polyketides. Danish scientists have examined the potential of polyketide pigments produced from chemotaxonomically selected non-toxigenic fungal strains, such as Penicillium and Epicoccum, to serve as food colorants.

It appears that the production of polyketide azaphilone pigments from such potentially safe hosts is advantageous over traditional processes that involve Monascus, which risks co-production of the mycotoxin citrinin. In addition, fungal production makes it possible to tailor functionality and expand the color palette of contemporary natural food colorants.

The ability of the polyketide class of natural pigments from ascomycetous fungi to serve as sustainable natural food colorants has largely escaped the attention of food scientists, despite their economic and marketing potential. Natural colors lost their appeal when synthetic colors became commercially available, promising higher consistency, heat stability, color range and cost. But natural colors are making a comeback as consumer awareness increases over the relationship between natural materials, diet and health.

Most E.U.-authorized natural food colorants are extracted from raw materials that have been sourced from insects and flowering plants. As such, their production can vary from batch to batch, depending on the supply of external materials and seasonal factors. However, many fungi and lichens are known to naturally produce and secrete a variety of pigments and colors.

Further information. Anne S. Meyer, Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, Technical University of Denmark, Soltofts Plads, Building 227, Room 039/04, 2800 Kongens Lyngby, Denmark; phone: 45252909; fax: 45932906; email:
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Publication:Emerging Food R&D Report
Date:May 1, 2011
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