Utilizing Beta-Carotene as a Food Colorant: Spectrophotometer Applications for Concentration Analysis

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and my calendar is filled with parties and festivities that allow me to share this joyous season with family and friends. Most holiday gatherings involve a fair share of snacks and food. However, as much as I love those brightly colored cheese puffs, I worry that maybe the artificial food colorant that fills my plate may not be so wonderful at all. Consumers are starting to be more aware of what they put into their bodies and there has been a lot of controversy over the use of artificial food colorant in recent years. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is in the process of developing new regulations which have manufacturers looking for more natural alternatives.

cheese puffs food colorant
The FDA is responding to consumer demands with new regulations on the use of artificial food colorants and manufactures must seek more natural alternatives.
Image Source: Flickr user Mike Mozart

Beta-Carotene is a naturally derived pigment that is abundant in many fruits and vegetables, and provides an alternative for food colorant in many products within the food and beverage industries. Its strong red-orange hue makes it an ideal alternative to artificial food colorants, plus beta-carotene provides an excellent source of vitamin A and its antioxidant properties are an added bonus. Spectrophotometers play an essential role in the measurement of beta-carotene as both a nutritional supplement and a natural food colorant. Processing, labeling, and regulations all require quantifiable color measurement to ensure quality and consistency in the food and beverage industries, and spectrophotometers provide the ideal means to do so.

Beta-carotene for nutrition and color

First derived from carrots in the early 1800’s, beta-carotene was prized for its nutritive properties and its strong ability to safely alter the appearance of food. In the presentation Beta-carotene for Color; Beta-carotene for Health, Dale Bertrand of Farbest Foods states that “Nutritionally, [beta-carotene] is an essential and safe source of vitamin A, which is found naturally in orange vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes, and in leafy greens, such as spinach. Utilization of beta-carotene from these sources is not efficient, [and] supplements are recommended for this reason. The amounts used as a colorant or in a nutritional supplement are sufficient to meet the needs of the human body. Both the natural and synthetic may be used to this end.” This information supports the high demand for beta-carotene as both a food colorant and a nutritional additive and the need to quantify its properties for these purposes.

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carrots food colorant
Beta-carotene was originally derived from carrots and is valued today for its use as both a food colorant and as a nutritional supplement.
Image Source: Flickr user Kari Sullivan

In order to utilize beta-carotene as both a food colorant and for its nutritional benefits, color measurement is imperative. Depending on the concentration of the derived product, beta-carotene can range in color from a light yellow to a deep red, and its nutritive properties are linked to color saturation as well. FDA regulations call for the proper measurement and monitoring of beta-carotene in food products to ensure that fortification requirements are met. Available in both powder and liquid form, beta-carotene is a versatile choice in food production and covers a wide range of food colorant needs.

beta-carotene food colorant
Beta-carotene is available in both liquid and powder forms, making it a flexible choice as a food colorant additive.
Image Source: Flickr user Dominic Alves

Measuring beta-carotene with spectrophotometers

Beta-carotene concentration is measured by spectrophotometric analysis using color absorption levels. Concentration of extraction samples can be measured using absorbance values based on the Hunter a and b colorimetric correlation. We offer a wide array of spectrophotometers that allow for various sample sizes and consistencies, and we specialize in food industry color analysis methods. At HunterLab we know our customers and understand their needs by working with cutting-edge researchers to meet the demands of color measurement in foods. To learn more about the new trends in food colorant measurement and find a solution that is right for you, contact HunterLab today.

  • George TH

    I am a 12th-grade student, trying to find a simple way to measure beta-carotene levels in carrots
    Can you recommend a possible way to do this?
    Thank you

  • Nicola Charlesworth

    Hi George TH,

    I’m in a similar position to you – trying to find a simple way to measure beta-carotene levels in carrots. Did you end up finding a way to do this?

    Thank you

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