The betalains are confined to 10 closely related families of the order Caryophyllales. The only foods containing betacyanins are the red beet, B. vulgaris; chard, B. vulgaris-, cactus fruit, Opuntia ficus-indica; and pokeberries, P. americana. Pokeberries are not a normal food source, but the leaves are eaten as a green vegetable. Betalains are also found in a number of flowers and the poisonous mushroom, Amanita muscaria, but again these are not normal food sources. Their importance as a food colorant derives solely from extracts of red beets. Red beets contain 75 to 95% betanin with the remainder isobetanin, prebetanin, and isoprebetanin. The last two are the sulfate monoesters of betanin and isoprebetanin (Fig. 5), respectively. Beets contain both the red betacyanins and the yellow betaxanthins, but cultivars are available with different ratios of the red and yellow pigments. Cultivars also are available that contain only the yellow betaxanthins. Cultivars of red beets with a wide ratio of red to yellow pigments have been developed. Thus it is possible by selecting appropriate cultivars of red beets and/or blending with extracts of yellow beets to provide a range of red to yellow colorants.

The anthocyanin/flavonoid and betacyanin/betaxan-thin groups are mutually exclusive in the plant kingdom. Anthocyanins and betacyanins have never been reported in the same plant.

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