Palm Mixed Carotenes: Natural And Healthy Colours

Thursday, September 13th, 2018 | 125 Views

Natural colourants do not just colour the food and beverage naturally, but some also contain nutritional value says Koh Yew Ming, Technical Sales Manager at KLK OLEO.


Colour Affects The Perception Of Food

It is human nature—we are more attracted to colourful food and beverage than drab ones. Our sense of taste is often fooled by our sense of sight. This is because humans have certain expectations of how food should look. When a food’s colour is off or is different than what we expect, our brain tells us that it tastes different too. Long supported by scientific studies, we use visual cues from colour to identify and judge the quality and taste of what we eat. If artificial colourants are used in the food and beverage products, they may link to adverse health effects.

Colour is often the first element noticed in the appearance of a food or beverage product. Not only it predetermines perception of the taste, palatability, quality of food, but it also ensures uniformity of the food from batch to batch production. With increasing demand for natural and Clean Label food, natural colourants are getting more attention by food manufacturers. Natural colourants do not just colour the food and beverage naturally, but some also contain nutritional value.

Fruits and vegetables have assumed the status of ‘functional’ foods. They are capable of providing additional health benefits, like preventing or delaying onset of chronic diseases, as well as meeting basic nutritional requirements. Appropriate intake of a variety of fruits and vegetables ensures sufficient supply of nutrients and phytochemicals such as carotenoids.


Carotenoids As The Choice Of Food Colours

Nowadays, food scientists are collaborating with nutrition researchers to develop plant-based functional foods to promote healthy eating habits. In food research, carotenoids from fruits and vegetables have attracted a great deal of attention. Humans have utilised carotenoids as food colours for centuries: saffron, pepper, leaves, and red palm oil are some of the most used pigments. Natural sources of carotenoids have persisted through the years and new ones have been introduced.

Carotenoids have very important biological activities and their use as food colourants is common today. They are recommended largely due to their vitamin A and antioxidant activities, which are very important for the maintenance of health.


A Rich Source of Pro-Vitamin A

Carotenoids are one of the natural pigments widely available in fruits and vegetables. They are found principally in plants, algae, and photosynthetic bacteria, where they play a critical role in the photosynthetic process. They also occur in some non-photosynthetic bacteria, yeasts, and moulds, where they may carry out a protective function against damage by light and oxygen. The carotenoids, including beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and lycopene, are vitamin A precursors (Pro-Vitamin A). These pigments produce yellow, orange, red, and dark green in fruits and vegetables. They act as antioxidants, fighting against the damage caused by oxidation, which plays a role in the development of cardiovascular diseases and cancers.


Is Synthetic Colour Potentially Harmful?

Carotenoids-containing plant extracts have been used to colour the foods for many decades and it is still being practiced today. Beta-carotene is a member of the carotenoids family and it is a common choice as a colourant in food and beverages. It is a rich source of pro-vitamin A that helps to promote night vision and strengthen immunity.

Due to its wide range of applications, beta-carotene is also commercially synthesised as an artificial colour additive and nutritional dietary supplement ingredient. Unfortunately, studies have suggested that synthetic colourants or dyes cause Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and so the synthetic, single form of beta-carotene also poses a potential health threat.

Studies have also proven instances of hyperactivity in young children (aged between three and nine years old) after consuming drink mixes containing artificial food colourants. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) conducted safety tests on six synthetic food dyes, called “Southampton Six Colours”: namely, Tartrazine (E102), Sunset Yellow (E110), Allura Red (E129), Quinoline Yellow (E104), Ponceau 4R (E124) and Carmoisine (E122). Based on the tests results, EFSA reviewed on a broader body of evidence and proved that the artificial food colourants caused children’s hyperactivity (ADHD). As a result, the European Union Parliament mandated warning labels on foods containing the six synthetic colours. Almost all manufacturers and retailers have taken action to remove and replace the artificial colours with natural colours, such as replacing Tartrazine and Sunset Yellow with palm mixed carotenes.


Natural Mixed Carotenes: The Safer And Healthier Choice

Palm fruits are the world’s richest natural plant source of mixed carotenes in terms of retinol equivalent. Palm fruit extract contains about 15 to 300 times more carotene (as retinol equivalent), which is higher than carrots, leafy green vegetables and tomatoes. As the precious gift of Mother Nature, palm fruit extract possesses a mixture of alpha- and beta-carotene which exist in both cis and trans form. In fact, it contains the highest concentration of alpha-carotene compared to the other commercial sources.

Generally, there are four types of carotene sources available in the market as summarised in the table below.

Alpha-carotene often coexists with beta-carotene in fruits and vegetables, especially carrot and palm fruit. A study showed that alpha-carotene is a more potent antioxidant than beta-carotene, and cis-beta-carotene has been shown to possess higher antioxidant potency than trans-beta-carotene.

Another study also showed that alpha-carotene is a better antioxidant than beta-carotene, and therefore, it may be useful in limiting free radical-mediated peroxidative damage against membrane phospholipids in-vivo. While alpha-carotene is chemically similar to beta-carotene, several studies seem to demonstrate that alpha-carotene is much more effective in decreasing mortality for certain forms of cancer (lung, prostate, liver, and so on) as well as reducing the risk of cardiovascular mortality. Research on the subject tends to show that the higher the alpha-carotene blood concentration, the more the risk of all-cause death diminishes.

Palm mixed carotenes inhibited the development of colonic aberrant crypt foci i.e. abnormal tube-like glands in the colon lining that may link to cancer development whereas single beta-carotene did not show such properties. Palm mixed carotenes possess predominantly alpha- and beta-carotene that behave in a synergistic manner to provide health effects stronger than alpha- and beta-carotene individually. Alpha- and beta-carotene are scientifically proven to promote heart health, skin health, healthy aging, bone and joint health, cognitive health and more.


Precious Pigments

Increasing awareness and demand for a healthy lifestyle among consumers have led to the emphasis on the naturalness of food and beverage products with nutritional values. This has subsequently led to an escalation of transparency in food or ingredient labelling in the market. Consumers, retailers and manufacturers have been progressively sourcing for natural food colourants as ingredients and this is where natural carotenoids fit the puzzle.


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