Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

New research project may pave the way for a farewell to artificial colours in food

Based on violet carrots, Henrik Brinch-Pedersen from the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics and his collaborators will make it possible to replace more artificial colours in food with natural colours based on vegetables. The Innovation Fund has invested almost DKK 15 million (around Euro 2 million) in the project.

2019.09.13 | Lisbeth Heilesen

Based on violet carrots, Danish researchers and a Danish company will make it possible to replace more artificial colours in food with natural colours based on vegetables. The Innovation Fund has invested almost DKK 15 million (around Euro 2 million) in the project (photo: Henrik Brinch-Pedersen/AU)

Consumers all over the world are increasingly demanding food without artificial additives, just as vegetarian and vegan food solutions are gaining momentum both in Denmark and the rest of the world. It increases the need for natural and pure vegetable food colours.

However, the transition to natural colours is limited by the fact that these colours are in many cases sensitive to light, heat and pH, as well as by limited shades of colour and high prices.

Large listed company and university combine competences

In the research project NaFoCo, Aarhus University and the company Chr. Hansen Natural Colors A/S use classic plant breeding, new breeding techniques and cultivation techniques for the development and optimized production of raw materials specifically aimed at the production of natural colours for food.

- At Chr. Hansen, we have extensive knowledge of how the structure of pigment molecules affects the colour properties of foods. Together with Aarhus University's expertise in genetic regulation and environmental impact of pigment synthesis in plants and pigment stability, it provides a unique opportunity to develop new and better natural colours for food that can be produced with fewer resources, says Bjarne Jørnsgård, who is Crop Science Manager at Chr. Hansen Natural Colors A/S.

Violet carrots may be the solution

The project focuses on colours in the spectrum from blue and violet over pure red to orange-red shades with improved stability properties compared to existing solutions.

The project works with violet carrot as a model crop, because these carrots naturally contain colours with the potential to cover the desired colour spectrum. At the same time, it is a very productive crop and thus it is possible to lower the price and thereby get a real and acceptable alternative to artificial food colours.

Denmark has a very efficient carrot production, and today carrots of 2.194 hectare (5.4214921 acres) are produced, of which almost half are organic. Violet carrots for the production of food colours can be an interesting new crop for the Danish farmers.

At the end of the five-year project period, it will be possible to scale the developed solution to other types of plants. NaFoCo is a collaboration between the food ingredient company Chr. Hansen Natural Colors A/S, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics and Department of Food, both at Aarhus University.

Read more on the website of Innonvationsfonden (in Danish)


Contact at the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics:

Professor Henrik Brinch-Pedersen
Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Aarhus University
hbp@mbg.au.dk -  +45 87158268  

Knowledge exchange