Gregory Ziegler, PhD, was grinding avocado pits for a study on the extraction of starch 10 years ago when something struck his curiosity. The avocado pit had reacted causing a bright orange hue.
“It was a bit fortuitous actually,” the Penn State University professor food scientist says. “For several months after, I looked high and low for studies on this. While I did find some use of it in textile dye, there was nothing related to food coloring in any studies.”
Natural food coloring accounts for 55 percent of the $2 billion food coloring market, according to Future Market Insights. While the avocado pit currently has no commercial use, Dr. Ziegler’s discovery started a new development in the natural food dye industry.
Most produce carries polyphenol oxidase which causes a brown color to emerge when exposed to oxygen. Because of substrates in an avocado’s seeds, instead its reaction is a bright orange color which can be modified into hues of red and yellow.
Since Dr. Ziegler’s idea 10 years ago, toxicologist Joshua Lambert, PhD, and analytical chemist Emmanuel Hatzakis, PhD, have joined the study. The team has expanded outside Penn State— completing a color additive petition, toxicology studies, and literary on avocado pits. The idea has formed into a business, Persea Naturals LLC, ran by CEO Robert Hicks. The company’s product, AvoColor, is the result of the team’s findings.
“We are looking into [the product’s] interactions with other food ingredients, as there may be some responsiveness to pH,” Dr. Ziegler explains. “But overall, the product is extremely stable to heat, light, and oxygen.”
The discovery couldn’t come soon enough as natural food dyes have been in high demand since 2007 when Southampton University researchers released a study suggesting synthetic food coloring causes hyperactivity disorders in children. The European Food Safety Authority evaluated the accusation and concluded the evidence “does not substantiate a link between color additives and behavioral effects” for any legal color additives.
Despite this, organizations such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest are calling for the FDA to ban synthetic dyes in food products marketed to children.
“There is a perceived health benefit in natural food coloring over synthetic: I say ‘perceived’ because there is no proof that synthetic food coloring is harmful to one’s health,” says Dr. Ziegler. “Yet there is a demand for simpler foods, using fewer chemical ingredients.”
While the use of synthetic food coloring may or may not be harmful to one’s health, Dr. Ziegler’s discovery is substantial in adhering to the growing consumer request for organic products.
Robles is an editorial intern for Wiley’s U.S. B2B editorial division.