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After Petition, the FDA Just Approved This New Food Additive

It's a plant-derived food color with bright hues.

After a petition by Sensient Technologies Corporation, butterfly pea flower extract has been added to the list of approved color additives by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It's apparently the first plant-derived natural blue source approved by the federal agency.

Some food dyes like Blue #1 and #2 and Yellow #5 and #6 have been linked to developmental disorders in children and cancers in animals. These ingredients can be mass-produced with chemicals in a lab.

Related: 9 Healthy Eating Habits to Live Over A Century, Say Dietitians

In contrast, butterfly pea flower is native to Asia, where it has been used for centuries to make tea. It naturally colors foods and beverages with a pH above 3.8 a bright denim blue and those with a pH below 3.8 a deep purple.

Butterfly pea flower

If butterfly pea flower exists in nature, why did it take the ingredients industry so long to develop a blue food color? According to Food Dive's Samantha Oller, "the quest has been stymied by ensuring the stability and vibrancy in products that may be exposed to a range of conditions and shelf-life requirements."

Sensient Technologies Corporation said in a press release that its work on butterfly pea flower extract began more than 10 years ago. Its natural blue color is "exceptionally heat stable."

"While butterfly pea flower is relatively ubiquitous in parts of Southeast Asia, we discovered that the petals commonly grown for other uses were not ideally suited for the manufacture of standardized natural colors . . . We invested to develop higher pigment petals in order to produce a highly stable, safe, and clean blue for modern food and beverage manufacturers," Mike Geraghty, president of Sensient Colors LLC, said.

Items that can now include butterfly pea flower as an additive include alcoholic beverages, candy, carbonated coated nuts, chewing gum, soft drinks, dairy drinks, fruit drinks, fruit and vegetable juices, ice creams, sports drinks, teas, and yogurts.

Some reports say too much butterfly pea flower can cause nausea, but no official medical stance on this has been taken, Healthline says.

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Amanda McDonald
Amanda has a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a bachelor's degree in digital journalism from Loyola University Chicago. Read more about Amanda