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Fungal sourced colours have big potential, say researchers

Fungal sourced colours have big potential, say researchers

A rising demand for natural colours is promising for those who are using looking to use fungi to create natural colours, according to scientists.

The growing market for the natural food colorants across the globe – and especially in economically fast-growing countries – has led to many searching for new ways to source such ingredients. And one area that shows great potential is the use of filamentous fungi to create a diverse range of colorants, say researchers writing in Current Opinion in Biotechnology.

Led by Laurent Dufossé from the Université de La Réunion in France, the team reviewed examples of new and ‘promising and as yet unexplored’ sources of colourants from filamentous fungi which they suggest “may pave the way for alternative and/or additional biotechnological processes for the industrial production of natural food colorants of improved functionality.

“The successful marketing of natural pigments derived from algae (non-conventional sources) or extracted from flowering plants (conventional sources), both as food colorants and nutritional supplements, reflects the presence, and importance of niche markets in which consumers are willing to pay a premium for ‘natural healthy ingredients’,” noted the team.

“Among non-conventional sources, filamentous fungi are known to produce an extraordinary range of pigments that include several chemical classes such as carotenoids, melanins, flavins, phenazines, quinones, and more specifically monascins, violacein or indigo.”

They noted that while some fermentative food grade pigments from filamentous fungi already exist in the market – including Monascus pigments, Arpink red from Penicillium oxalicum, riboflavin from Ashbya gossypii, lycopene and beta-carotene from Blakeslea trispora – an underexplored and underutilised potential remains in the use of filamentous fungi to produce natural colours.

“The present article emphasizes the crucial role that filamentous fungi are currently playing and are likely to continue to play in the future as microbial cell factories for the production of food grade pigments because of the versatility in their pigment colour and chemical profile, amenability for easy large scale cultivation, and a long-term history of well-studied production strains,” wrote the team.

“We draw attention of both the academia and the food industry to some stimulating research findings in the area of fungal pigments.”

Fungal potential

While the use of fungi for the production of natural colours through fermentation is by no means new, the authors note that there is still a wealth of potential for sourcing new colours through such methods.

They point to ongoing research and interest for marine organisms with respect to the production of new molecules and, among them, new pigments – adding that many marine ecological niches are still unexplored.

The current use and the potential of using filamentous fungi as pigment and natural colorant sources for food applications are promising considering the ever rising demand by the consumers to replace their synthetic counterparts,” said Dufossé and colleagues.

“Filamentous fungi are readily available raw materials that can be tailored to make microbial cell factories for the production of food grade pigments because of their chemical and colour versatility in their pigment profile, easier large scale controlled cultivation, and a long-term history of well known production strains for the production of a variety of other biochemicals including colorants.”

Source: Current Opinion in Biotechnology
Volume 26, April 2014, Pages 56–61, doi: 10.1016/j.copbio.2013.09.007
“Filamentous fungi are large-scale producers of pigments and colorants for the food industry”
Authors: Laurent Dufossé, Mireille Fouillaud, et al

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