- Pennsylvania State University researchers have developed a range of natural food colors in the red-orange-yellow spectrum derived from the avocado seed. The patent-pending AvoColor product is being commercialized by Persea Naturals, LLC, a Penn State startup company.
- The product developers — Penn State food science professors Greg Ziegler and Joshua Lambert — found that the vibrant colors can be extracted from the avocado seed using water and ethanol, according to Food Navigator.
- "Right now, food manufacturers are disposing the seed of the avocado, which results in not only a lost opportunity cost, but also contributes to an inordinate amount of food waste in the environment," Ziegler said in a release. "Food manufacturers have searched for what has been to-date an elusive opportunity to provide an all-natural, viable and affordable food coloring source."
The Penn State researchers weren't looking at avocado seeds to produce natural colors when they discovered the possibility. Ziegler told Food Navigator he was grinding seeds down to extract starch several years ago when he noticed that a "brilliant orange color" had appeared due to the grinding process. Work since then has focused on removing less-stable contaminants and making the color more stable to use it in food products, he said.
AvoColor products have so far been used in a number of experimental food applications — gummy bears, pops, baked products, frosting, carbonated beverages and milk. Commercial use of the colors in the U.S. market requires Food and Drug Administration approval of a color additive petition, which is in the works. Once that regulatory hurdle is passed, Persea Naturals could begin marketing the product during the next 18 to 36 months. Ziegler said he's not aware of any other efforts working to commercialize colors made from avocado seeds.
Natural sources of color are becoming more popular as consumers look for free-from and natural foods and beverages. About 42% of global consumers and 29% of those in North America said it's very important for them to eat foods without artificial colors, according to Nielsen research. While natural colors can be costly, 23% of North American consumers said they're willing to pay more for them.
Popularity of avocado is at an all-time high, resulting in record consumption and prices since most of them are imported from Mexico. The average weekly U.S. avocado consumption of 42 million pounds nearly doubled between 2014 and 2017 and is projected to hit 50 million pounds per week in 2019 — so the supply of avocado seeds is likely to be stable for the foreseeable future.
Using a part of the fruit that would otherwise be tossed out could be a marketing advantage for AvoColor since it provides a sustainability credential. So-called "upcycled" products include WTRMLN WTR, which makes fresh cold-pressed beverages from parts of watermelons that aren't shipped to retailers, and Sir Kensington's vegan mayonnaise made with aquafaba, the liquid left over from cooking chickpeas.
If AvoColor gets FDA approval and manufacturers show enough interest, the seed may become a popular product of its own.