DIC Corp unveils state of the art spirulina extraction plant to meet growing demand for natural blue food color

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

DIC Corp unveils state of the art spirulina extraction plant

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Tokyo-based DIC Corporation - which claims to be the world’s largest producer of spirulina – has finished building a $10m state-of-the-art extraction plant for the blue-green algae in southern California to meet growing demand for natural blue food colors – with commercial production expected to begin in September.

While other fruit- and vegetable-based natural blue colors have been available to US manufacturers for some time, demand for spirulina extract has surged in the past 18 months following moves by the FDA to approve its use in a wide variety of foodstuffs, said DIC.

“DIC estimates that the global market for natural blue food coloring will double between now and 2018, by which time it also expects the DIC Group’s share of this market to expand to 50%, from 20% at present.”

The new extraction facility - which will produce DIC’s Linablue natural blue food coloring from phycocyanin, a blue colorant extracted from spirulina using a water extraction process - is next door to the spirulina farm of DIC’s US subsidiary Earthrise Nutritionals, a leading player in the spirulina dietary supplements market.

Currently, DIC makes Linablue in Hainan Island in China, where it operates another spirulina production facility. However, having a second extraction facility in California will enable it to respond more effectively to demand in the US, said the firm, which has been operating at full capacity at the Hainan Island site for some time.

What is spirulina?

A nutrient-rich blue-green algae that grows naturally in lakes in Africa and Central and South America, Spirulina contains more than 50 vitamins and minerals, including calcium and iron, and thrives in high-alkaline waters where other organisms cannot survive. It is also high in protein, fiber and gamma-linolenic acid.

Earthrise grows spirulina in water from the Colorado river, which is pumped through canals to large settling ponds, through filters and into the growing ponds. The production system employs a closed-loop system where everything is recycled.

Clean water, carbon and nutrients are added daily to feed the algae, which is mixed by huge paddle wheels. 

What is Linablue like to work with?

According to DIC, Linablue powder can dissolve quickly in cold and warm water, and is stable at around pH 4.5 – 8.0. Used with milk, egg or other ingredients containing protein, its color stability also improves, said the firm.

While the color can fade following exposure to light, meanwhile, this affect can be tackled with agents such as sodium ascorbate.

“The color shade of Linablue is much more brilliant and vivid than Gardenia blue.  Mixed with red, yellow and other colorants, it is possible to obtain green, purple and other neutral colors.”

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