The potential health promoting characteristics of tomatoes have led to a steady increase in the inclusion of the tomato carotenoid lycopene as a food colour and a functional food ingredient.
In a paper written for market analysts Frost & Sullivan, Dr. Lyndsey Grieg highlighted the fact that in 1996 lycopene accounted for less than 10 per cent of the total red food colourants market in Europe. It was used largely in tomato sauces and soups. Over the last 5 years however, use of lycopene has shown a small but steady increase.
Pointing to recent research as the cause of this increased use, Dr. Grieg discusses a 1999 study in which prostate cancer patients benefited from supplementation with a whole tomato extract. After just two weeks of supplementation, patients had significantly smaller and more localised tumours.
Dr. Grieg explains that lycopene possesses antioxidant properties which help prevent the cell damage which can result in degenerative diseases. The fact that lycopene is present in human blood plasma at greater concentrations than, for example, beta-carotene, suggests that lycopene may have even greater importance to the human immune system as well.
The largest manufacturer of high lycopene natural tomato extract for supplements and as food coloring is LycoRed Natural Products Industries in Israel. Their product, Lyc-O-Mato® is all natural and is manufactured from only non-GMO tomatoes.
On the synthetic front, Dr. Grieg reports "Hoffmann-La Roche AG have developed a method for the manufacture of nature-identical lycopene, but this synthetic product has yet to be accepted for use in food by the European Union. This is because only limited toxicity data on the product is as yet available."
Under current European Law only natural tomato lycopene is approved for use as a food colourant.