News/Culture >> Browse Articles >> Food News


Ancient Purple Carrot Finds New Life Coloring Food

Ancient Purple Carrot Finds New Life Coloring Food

Purple carrots along with other colored variates of carrots.

Tracie Cone | Associated Press Writer

FRESNO, California-The ancient purple carrot is returning to its roots, this time to dye processed foods rather than the robes of Afghan royals.

Researchers in California are preparing for increased demand for fruits and vegetables that pull double duty as dyes as the deadline approaches for when the European Union will require warning labels on synthetically colored foods.

“There’s a mad dash in Europe to get synthetic dyes out and put natural ones in, and it’s coming across the Atlantic,” said Stephen Lauro, general manager of ColorMaker in Anaheim, which turns beets, berries, cabbages and carrots into dyes for products such as Gerber toddler foods and Tang breakfast drink. “It was dumb luck and we stepped into it.”

Petroleum-based synthetic dyes approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration commonly have been used in processed foods to help them mimic the product they are supposed to represent _ for example, the red in some fast-food strawberry sundaes.

“We eat with our eyes, and the first thing you evaluate is color,” Lauro said.

Among the best sources of natural vegetable dye are purple carrots, organically grown for the domestic gourmet market in the San Joaquin Valley by Grimmway Farms, which is supplying juice for experiments at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.

The carrots have been around thousands of years longer than their orange counterparts and are especially high in the antioxidant anthocyanin, a free-radical-fighting plant pigment that also colors blueberries and red wine grapes.

“Mom always said vegetables are good for you but didn’t know why,” said Paul Verderber, juice division manager of Grimmway. “The colors are causing the goodness.”

The interest in natural sources of food colorings comes as researchers at Southampton University in England have linked some synthetic dyes with hyperactivity in children.

The United Kingdom moved last year to ban some synthetic food dyes, and on Jan. 1 the European Union will require that foods made with them carry the warning “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”