Wilmington College partners with CIFT & Sensus in producing natural food coloring

By Randy Sarvis, Wilmington College

Wilmington College freshman Sarah Smoker, an intern with CIFT, chats with Sensus' R&D director, Dr. Kevin Goodner, (LEFT) and WC agriculture professor Dr. Monte Anderson.

Wilmington College’s Dr. Monte Anderson and two students hauled 200 pounds of unshelled Bloody Butcher corn to a Cincinnati area ingredient research and development company several weeks ago.

Bloody Butcher is a deep purple-hued corn that Sensus Corp. of Hamilton is using to conduct research on extracting color for use in foods.

Many consumers are demanding that food contain naturally derived products for color, taste and scent. More and more, they are seeking out natural replacements for artificially produced food enhancements.

Indeed, they want the purple color in their energy drink to come from agriculture rather than a concoction produced in a chemistry lab.

Sensus produces essences from natural, agriculture based products with a keen interest in using those produced locally in southwest Ohio. That’s where Wilmington College comes in.

WC and Sensus are member organizations of CIFT, the Center for Innovative Food Technology, which has a regional office at the College headed by Rob Jaehnig, agribusiness development specialist.

“We allow a lot of unnatural things into our foods. Sensus came to us to find partners because they want to purchase natural, agricultural products from Ohio farms,” he said. “Wilmington College can produce many of those products.”

Indeed, WC has produced a series of specialty farm products, many of which are in demand for their potential as natural coloring for food products. Anderson, a professor of agriculture with expertise in horticulture, has been involved with growing a rainbow of unique vegetables.

“The College grew purple carrots, blue corn, purple corn and red — deep red — and purple cabbage,” he said. “Sensus is conducting research tests for viability.”

Anderson also noted dark colored variations of traditional vegetables can contain higher concentrations of antioxidants than their lighter colored counterparts. Antioxidants are believed to provide health benefits and are being investigated in regard to the prevention of cancer and coronary heart disease.

Sensus sees itself at the cutting edge in producing natural essences in anticipation of a not-too-distant future when the Food and Drug Administration passes new regulations requiring that all food colorings be naturally based.

A sample of Bloody Butcher corn.

Kevin Goodner, Ph.D., director of research and development at Sensus, is counting on a consumer-led sea change in how food products are produced with regard to color, taste and aroma.

“Our belief is that artificial color will become out of favor by the consumer, even outlawed — natural pigments will take off,” he said, noting his company’s motto is “Nature created it. We captured it.”

Indeed, Goodner indicated a significant market already exists for naturally pigmented products.

He said Sensus, which is involved with producing concentrated essences for coffee, tea, vegetables, herbs, botanical and florals, extracts its natural colors and flavors via a steam distillation process.
The purple coloring from WC’s Bloody Butcher corn is extracted not from the corn but from the cob.

“We’re working on what products we can produce that could be commercially viable,” Goodner added. “Sensus sees Wilmington College and CIFT as partners, and we believe there will be opportunities for even bigger and better things down the road.”

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