Laccaic acid D Figure 2. Structures of the anthraquinone pigments in lac.


The red roots of beetroot, Beta vulgaris, have been known for centuries as an attractive food and as a means of imparting a desirable red color to other foods. Extracts of red beets as colorants are a relatively recent development, but the concept dates back well over 100 years. The berries of pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, are intensely colored with betalains and provided some insurance for the wine industry against years with poorly colored grapes. The addition of pokeberry juice to wine was forbidden in France in 1892, primarily because the juice also contains a purgatory and emetic saponin called phytolaccatoxin. The red pigment was formerly called phytolaccanin until it was established that the pigment was identical with betanin in beets (1,2). A method to remove the phytolaccatoxin from pokeberry juice was also published. There was considerable interest in the United States in the development of colorants from beets in the 1980s, but, unfortunately, it coincided with the unfolding of the role of nitrites in the formation of the toxic nitrosamines. Beets are notorious accumulators of nitrates and nitrites in the growing period, and the necessity of reducing the nitrite level was one more hurdle.

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