Microbial Production of Food Grade Pigments

Laurent Dufossé1,2*

Laboratoire de Chimie des Substances Naturelles et des Sciences des Aliments, Faculté des Sciences et Technologies, E.S.I.D.A.I., Université de La Réunion, 15 avenue René Cassin, B.P. 7151, FR-97715 Saint-Denis Messag. Cedex 9, La Réunion, France

2Laboratoire ANTiOX, Université de Bretagne Occidentale, IUP Innovation en Industries Alimentaires, Pôle Technologique de Créac’h Gwen, FR-29018 Quimper Cedex, France

Article history:

Received November 30, 2005
Accepted March 1, 2006

Key words:

microbial pigment, food ingredient, carotenoid, Monascus, Brevibacterium


The controversial topic of synthetic dyes in food has been discussed for many years. The scrutiny and negative assessment of synthetic food dyes by the modern consumer have raised a strong interest in natural colouring alternatives. Nature is rich in colours (minerals, plants, microalgae, etc.), and pigment-producing microorganisms (fungi, yeasts, bacteria) are quite common. Among the molecules produced by microorganisms are carotenoids, melanins, flavins, quinones, and more specifically monascins, violacein or indigo. The success of any pigment produced by fermentation depends upon its acceptability on the market, regulatory approval, and the size of the capital investment required to bring the product to market. A few years ago, some expressed doubts about the successful commercialization of fermentation-derived food grade pigments because of the high capital investment requirements for fermentation facilities and the extensive and lengthy toxicity studies required by regulatory agencies. Public perception of biotechnology-derived products also had to be taken into account. Nowadays some fermentative food grade pigments are on the market: Monascus pigments, astaxanthin from Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous, Arpink Red from Penicillium oxalicum, riboflavin from Ashbya gossypii, β-carotene from Blakeslea trispora. The successful marketing of pigments derived from algae or extracted from plants, both as a food colour and a nutritional supplement, reflects the presence and importance of niche markets in which consumers are willing to pay a premium for »all natural ingredients«.


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