Natural Food Coloring

Carlos Andam By Carlos Andam, 28th Dec 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Nature>Plants

The advent of synthetics has practically made natural food coloring from plants disappear in the lives of many people in the world but thanks to indigenous people for preserving their knowledge on how to prepare these colorants and initiatives for reviving interest in this commodity.

Annatto (Bixa orelana L.)

The use of natural food coloring extracted from plant parts could spell the difference when it comes to taste and health. After all, food products which use natural food coloring are safer and they attract many people in the world nowadays. With the discovery of synthetic dye stuff being detrimental to human health due to their carcinogenic properties, the need to substitute food colorings with those of natural origin like plants is highly recommended.

Yet, it could crack savings in our dollar reserves if we are to revive the use of dye-yielding plants which abounds in natural forests and especially if we are to develop them commercially. About US $20 million worth of dyes, tannins and printing pigments are being imported annually.

As early as the 1920s, natural dye-producing plants which have high extractives have been reported to exist in natural forests of the country. These indigenous plants are waiting for their development and they offer alternatives to the imported synthetic dyes which are believed to be one of the banes of industrialization that environmentalists always gripe about.

One of the plants which have high potential as a coloring pigment in food preparations is the achuete otherwise known as annatto (Bixa orelana L.)] in botany. It has also the potential applications to the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries which produce health related goods.

In the past, the Latin American countries are the major suppliers of achuete in the international markets. Asian countries including the Philippines contribute only around 14% of the total market.

Importing countries require a bixin content of 2.7% or more. Bixin is the coloring pigment found in the achuete seeds. It is used substantially in the manufacture of cheese and butter, dressings, snacks, and other confectioneries. Its application in the various industries is distributed as follows: cheese making - 50%, fish processing and feed manufacturing - 20%, confectionery - .05%, and other uses including dye products but other than cheese and snacks - 20%.

In Abra and La Union, the handloom weavers also used achuete seeds to color their fabric products. The indigenous extraction process entails manual dehusking of the seeds to separate them from the fruit peel or rind. Then these are macerated with water after which the mixture is left to ferment and then filtered thru a sieve. Finally, the coloring matter which settles down is collected.

Although achuete is more popularly used as food coloring, the Forest Products Research and Development Institute in College, Laguna likewise reported in 1986 its potential for staining furnitures and that the result is comparable with commercial wood stains.

Based on a study conducted by the Bureau of Plant Industry with financial support from the Philippine Council for Industry and Energy Research and Development, Philippine achuete seeds are found to posses high potential for export. Specifically, the white flower bearing achuete has the highest bixin yield of 2.59%.

The result of the study further revealed that poor packaging, rough transportation, and crude drying methods contribute to the loss of the bixin content. The study also mentioned the use of a solar dryer and dehydrator to improve quality.

The solar dryer is a mobile equipment which follows the direction of the sun. It is fabricated with a capacity of 100 - 130 kilograms of seeds. On the other hand, the dehydrator is a motor-driven dryer which provides mechanical ventilation. It has a capacity of 30 - 40 kilograms. The solar dryer is an improved technique compared to the farmer's practice. It ensures consistent quality of the seeds.

Polyethylene bags are found suitable in handling and storage. Using these bags resulted to the retention of the bixin content up to four months at ambient temperature or 28 to 32 degrees Celsius. These bags provide substantial protection to the uptake of water vapor of the seeds. As such, these are likewise suited for transporting the seeds in bulk because of their adequate strength.

The BPI study revealed a simple lesson for the Filipinos. That we should look back in our backyards or forests and our resources are there waiting for their utilization and development. Our forefathers have shown us the example and we must continue what they have started. After all, the world demand for food coloring from natural sources like the achuete seeds would certainly increase because of its advantage in relation to our health and the environment.


Food Coloring, Food Ingredients, Food Pigments, Food Preparation, Food Safety, Natural Food Coloring, Natural Way

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author avatar Carlos Andam
Agriculturist, researcher, professor and a freelance science feature writer.

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author avatar Sandhya baste
20th Aug 2012 (#)

Can you help ---How to prepare a safe food color from annaota bixa .

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author avatar Mark Angeles
22nd Apr 2015 (#)

It's not bad to go back to basic. It is good for our health.

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