After two years in development, the new food colour is an anthocyanin sourced from Europe with a pH range from 5.5 to 8.
Annette Møllgaard, marketing manager for Chr Hansen told FoodNavigator.com that the new product produced in Denmark, that brings a full colour spectrum to the firm's portfolio, will "target confectionery and ice cream applications", where flavours are in the neutral zone.
As the functional food trend continues to soar, food and beverage manufacturers are increasingly on the hunt for natural colours - fuelling growth in the colouring foodstuffs market and outstripping the base line growth of the European colours market in general valued at €195 million in 2001.
"The European colouring market is expected to experience a compound annual growth rate of only 1 per cent for the period 2001-2008. In contrast, the colouring foodstuffs market is currently experiencing growth of an estimated 10 per cent to 15 per cent, driven by consumer interest in natural products," said Frost and Sullivan analyst Lyndsey Greig.
In addition to the influence of the functional food trend, the shift from synthetic colours to natural equivalents is underpinned by consumer suspicions that all E-numbers are unhealthy.
"Colouring foodstuffs include fruit and vegetable juices, concentrates and dried, powdered extracts. They do not contain any carriers or additives, and may be listed as ingredients, rather than as food additives," added Greig.
There are three main classes of colour in foods: natural colours, browning colours, which are produced during cooking and processing, and additives. The principal natural colours, most of which in refined form are used as additives, are the green pigment chlorophyll, the carotenoids, which give yellow to red colours, and the flavonoids, with their principal subclass the anthocyanins, which give flowers and fruits their red to blue colours.
Sources of anthocyanins include red grapes, elderberries, red cabbage, blood orange, the less familiar black chokeberry, and the sweet potato. Anthocyanins are highly dependent on acidity and lose their colour in conditions of low acidity.
The development by ingredients firm of anthocyanins which are more stable across a range of acidities is likely. Most of the recent activity in the field of red anthocyanin pigments has concentrated on red grapes, red potatoes, beet and amaranth 3, a relative of the beet family.
Chr Hansen declined to offer any further details about the anthocyanin source used for the new blue colour. As with all natural food colours, the product is more expensive than the synthetic equivalents - indigotine, brilliant and patent blue - but "competitive to other natural blues that are legal in Asia" said Møllgaard.
But food manufacturers recently incorporating blue into their food formulations have done so to design an eye-catching product, frequently to target children.
US sauce giant Heinz last year targeted American children with a blue variant of its traditional red ketchup.
"We produced EZ Squeeze Stellar Blue as a limited edition with about 500,000 bottles," a Heinz spokesperson explained to FoodNavigator.com, adding that it has not since produced any more. It did remain on the shelves for a few months over the summer of 2003, but since that time no Stellar Blue has been available, he continued.
In the European Union, the safety of food colours and other food additives is evaluated by the Scientific Committee on Food (SCF), an advisory expert committee of the European Commission. The Colour Directive 94/36/EC on colours for use in foodstuffs was adopted in 1994. The directive includes natural and artificial colours, which are listed according to the European (E-) numbering system.
The E numbers for colour additives range from E 100 (curcumin) to E 180 (lithorubine BK). Within the meaning of the Directive, food additive colours are defined as 'substances which add or restore colour in a food, and include natural sources which are normally not consumed as a foodstuff as such and not normally used as a characteristic ingredient in food'.
As a consequence, the Colour Directive excludes colouring foodstuffs and food ingredients, which may be used in the preparation of a final food, from the food additive regulation.
US firm RFI Ingredients, in conjunction with UK-based Overseal Natural Ingredients, recently introduced a natural blue colour for food applications. The firm said in a recent statement that the "product uses a particular type of vegetable extract and through formulation and processing technology, can provide a sky blue hue in certain applications."