The company hopes to make its coloring commercially available in the US in 2010.
Finding a natural blue coloring has proved problematic for many food manufacturers as they remove artificial colors from their products on the back of consumer demand, and there are still few viable alternatives.
The Colombia-based company’s natural blue is extracted from the edible jagua fruit, which grows in the Chocó rainforest. EcoFlora says it is committed to working with some of the poorest communities in the region to harvest the fruit in a manner which is environmentally sustainable and beneficial to the local economy.
“Sustainability is a key attribute to differentiate our products in the market,” the company said. “…The success of this project will provide a better livelihood and sustainable income to the local people and also provide a conservation strategy for the Jagua species itself, otherwise chopped down for timber.”
EcoFlora claims that the coloring is suitable for “any product in the food industry” including beverages, dairy, ice cream, liquors and confectionery.
Company spokesperson Oliver Tompkins told FoodNavigator-USA.com that EcoFlora started a petition process with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last October for the coloring to be accepted as a color additive permitted for food and cosmetic products, a process that could take up to two years.
“We’re expecting the first uses by around this time, or a bit later, next year,” said Tompkins.
Color additives are split out into certified colors, which require the manufacturer to send samples to the FDA for certification before being introduced, and exempt color additives, most of which are derived from natural sources. Tompkins explained that the jagua-derived coloring is exempt from certification but is still subject to an approval procedure because it has gone through an extraction process.
Although EcoFlora is currently focused on gaining approval for the ingredient in the US, it is also hoping to gain entry to the European market.
“The tests are very similar so after you’ve got FDA approval, Europe is easier,” said Tompkins.
Wild Flavors is another company that has come up with a natural blue coloring, which it says is derived from a mixture of fruits, although it has not revealed which ones, as its formulation is patent-pending.
The search for natural blue food colorings swelled after the results of a study from the University of Southampton were published in the British journal The Lancet in 2007. The researchers concluded that artificial food colors and additives exacerbate hyperactive behavior in children.