Debut Biotech teams up with DIC to explore novel, ‘cell-free’ approach to biomanufacturing natural food colors

The first food colors were made from plants, but were gradually replaced by petrochemical-derived artificial colors such as Red #40 or Yellow #5, thanks to advances in synthetic chemistry. By the end of the 20th century, however, natural colors were back in vogue, with manufacturers returning to plants (beets, annatto, turmeric), or in some cases single-celled microorganisms that naturally produce vibrant pigments (bacteria to make orange carotenoids, spirulina to make blue colors etc).  

But extracting colors from plants is not always practical or sustainable, while microbial fermentation (using yeast, fungi, algae or bacteria cells etc) can’t produce everything the food industry wants, Debut Biotech founder and CEO Joshua Britton told FoodNavigator-USA: “Many of the great ingredients we find in nature are too complex to be made inside a cell, so they’re still being extracted from fruits or insects.”​​

Targeting ‘the most difficult, high-value color ingredients in the market’

He added: “We’ve found that our technology is able to add real value for the most difficult, high-value color ingredients in the market, since our cell-free platform unlocks a level of complexity and sustainability that’s previously been inaccessible in color manufacturing.

“We’re doing better on every metric — cost, quality, sustainability, and speed, in addition to creating colors that have a range of functional benefits. While extraction and fermentation techniques have made improvements in the sustainability and efficiency of color creation, they’ve largely been incremental improvements.”

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