Colour me purple naturally

The purple carrot, prized in ancient times for dying royal robes, is set for a come-back because of its potential to provide a natural dye for food.

Researchers in California are preparing for increased demand for fruits and vegetables that pull double duty as dyes as the deadline approaches for when the European Union will require warning labels on synthetically coloured foods.

“There’s a mad dash in Europe to get synthetic dyes out and put natural ones in, and it’s coming across the Atlantic,” said Stephen Lauro, general manager of ColorMaker in Anaheim, which turns beets, berries, cabbages and carrots into dyes for products such as Gerber toddler foods and Tang breakfast drink. “It was dumb luck and we stepped into it.”

Petroleum-based synthetic dyes approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration commonly have been used in processed foods to help them mimic the product they are supposed to represent – for example, the red in some fast-food strawberry sundaes.

I’m not a member of the if it’s natural it’s good, if it’s synthetic it’s bad school. But the idea of food coloured by dye from carrots, beets, berries or cabbages is a lot more appealing than the idea of food coloured by dyes based on petrol.

The FDA doesn’t give its approval lightly, and it will be based on science but emotion rules here. Driving cars on vegetable based fuels sounds fine, fuelling people on petrol is a much harder sell.

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