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The wait is over for a natural blue! FDA approves spirulina as food color in US as Mars petition gets green light

By Elaine Watson+

14-Aug-2013

The FDA has added spirulina extract to its list of color additives exempt from certification, enabling gum and candy makers to use a natural blue for the first time. Picture: GNT USA
The FDA has added spirulina extract to its list of color additives exempt from certification, enabling gum and candy makers to use a natural blue for the first time. Picture: GNT USA

The FDA’s decision to give the thumbs up to spirulina  as a source of blue color in candy and gum finally gives US firms a natural alternative to artificial FD&C Blue #1 ('brilliant blue') and opens up new opportunities in natural greens, say color suppliers.

While several natural blue and green colors are approved in other markets, US manufacturers have had more limited options.

CHR Hansen: There was clearly a void in the marketplace and this fills it

Although the FDA’s approval for spirulina (from algae) is restricted to gums and candy (it comes in response to a petition from confectionery giant Mars Inc ), it opens up a whole new world of possibilities, CHR Hansen senior VP, Natural Colors, US, Kurt Seagrist told FoodNavigator-USA.

“This is great news. It’s the Holy Grail for many confectionery companies.There was clearly a void in the marketplace and this fills it.

"The great thing is we can also combine spirulina with other colors to make customized greens and other shades that were not possible before.”

Picture: bubbleandsweet.blogspot.com

Now that the FDA has added spirulina extract to its list of color additives exempt from certification, CHR Hansen has launched a natural blue for the US confectionery market suitable for panned candy, chewy candy, jelly gum/gummy candy, extruded candy and chewing gum in liquid and powdered formats under its SweetColor brand, said Seagrist.

“We supply spirulina in some other markets so we know a lot about how it works.”

While prices are fairly high, economies of scale mean that they should come down over time, added Seagrist.

GNT USA: We’ll work with the FDA to broaden applications beyond confectionery

GNT USA told FoodNavigator-USA it was  working with the FDA to try and broaden the scope of applications for spirulina extract beyond candy and gum.

The firm, which has petitioned the FDA to approve the use of Spirulina Concentrate as a color additive in multiple applications including ice cream, desserts, toppings; yogurts, and ready-to-eat cereals, said:

“As the pioneer of blue and green colors containing Spirulina, and being a base producer, from farm to production, we are very pleased to see that our efforts with the FDA in petitioning for Spirulina has resulted in its approval.

"We will continue to work closely with the FDA in order to broaden the application usage of these Spirulina containing blues and greens.”

Asked about the technical challenges related to using spirulina, which can be sensitive to heat and acidity, VP Jeanette O’Brien said: “When working with Spirulina based colors it is really the understanding of how to apply the right mixture in the right applications in order to get the solution the industry is looking for. 

"Working with a seasoned producer who knows how the product can be applied will be the key."

ROHA: The consumer demand for a natural blue has finally been fulfilled

ROHA: 'The consumer demand for a natural blue has finally been fulfilled'

Elijah Church, manager, technical support at natural colors expert ROHA said: "We are thrilled that spirulina has been approved for use in confections and gum. The consumer demand for a natural blue has finally been fulfilled. Because of this we can now also offer a more vibrant natural green. 

He added: "Spirulina is easy to work with and stands up very well to the acidic environment of candy and gum whereas other blue natural pigments do not. 

"There are many other foods that are acidic in nature and because of this will benefit greatly from the addition of spirulina. We are patiently awaiting the approval for use of spirulina in food across the board."

DD Williamson VP branding & market development Campbell Barnum said the approval would "create more hue options, and it will be a helpful addition to the toolkit of blended solutions in confectionery".

FDA: We are establishing ‘spirulina extract’ as the common or usual name for this color additive

A blue-green filamentous cyanobacteria (algae) that occurs naturally in freshwater and marine habitats, spirulina can be used as a food color in the US in candy and gum from September 13, said the FDA:

“The FDA is amending the color additive regulations to provide for the safe use of spirulina extract made from the dried biomass of the cyanobacteria Arthrospira platensis (A. platensis), as a color additive in candy and chewing gum in response to a petition filed by Mars, Inc.

“We are establishing ‘spirulina extract’ as the common or usual name for this color additive instead of the proposed name ‘spirulina blue’ because it more appropriately describes the additive."

Studies showed no toxic effects at the doses that were tested

Mars Inc filed a petition with the FDA in January 2012 to request approval to use spirulina as a natural blue color in candy and gum in the US market

In addition to specification limits for lead, arsenic, and mercury, the FDA will require that spirulina extract used as a color test negative for microcystin toxin, which is produced by some species of cyanobacteria that could be potentially present in the water whereA. platensisis grown and harvested, it said.

“We focused our review primarily on the safety of phycocyanins because these pigments are the main coloring components of the additive. As part of our safety evaluation, we estimated the exposure to phycocyanins from current and proposed food uses of spirulina-derived ingredients.

“The petitioner [Mars Inc] provided a number of published studies that investigated the toxicity of various spirulina powder extracts. The results of these studies showed no toxic effects at the doses that were tested.”

There is a low probability that the phycocyanins are protein allergens

The FDA also looked at allergenicity, it said.

“We reviewed a comparison of the known amino acid sequences of phycocyanins with the sequences of known protein allergens and determined that there is a low probability that the phycocyanins are protein allergens.”

FD&C Blue #1 ('Brilliant Blue FCF') is used in a variety of applications beyond candy and gum, including cake icing, ice cream, canned peas, bottled food colors for retail, ice pops, and liquers such as blue curacao. 

Mars Inc: There has previously been no suitable naturally sourced color that can be used to make green and blue confectionery that meets our consumers’ expectations

Mars Inc would not tell FoodNavigator-USA which products in its portfolio would switch to using spirulina, or what the timetable for this might be, but sent us the following statement: "Approval of this petition is one step towards providing Mars and other food manufacturers the option to produce confectionery and chewing gum products made with this naturally sourced color.

"Spirulina is consumed every day in many countries around the world, both as a food ingredient and a colorant. There has previously been no suitable naturally sourced color that can be used to make green and blue confectionery that meets our consumers’ expectations."

 

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