Crop Tech Corner

Corn: The New All-Natural Food Dye?

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
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Illinois researchers are working with Kraft to breed colored corn hybrids for natural food dye sources, a growing consumer preference. (DTN photo by Nick Scalise)

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- This bi-monthly column condenses the latest news in the field of crop technology, research and products.


Thanks to a consumer preference for "all-natural" ingredients, artificial food dyes have come under scrutiny. This could be corn's chance to shine, according to University of Illinois researchers. Many natural sources of dye such as carrots or beets are destroyed and wasted in the process of extracting their color, University of Illinois crop scientist Jack Juvik explained in a university press release. Colored corn kernels are hardier -- their color is limited to their outer shell, which can be removed. The rest of the kernel can then be shuttled off for traditional use in food, animal feed or ethanol production.

Using a $1.4 million award from Kraft Foods, Juvik and a team of Illinois researchers are working to isolate lines of corn that can reliably produce red and purple dyes. Corn kernels get their color from pigments known as anthocyanins in the outer layer of the kernel. The key to finding good dye sources is finding colored corn hybrids whose anthocyanin concentrations remain stable in each new generation of plants. Throughout the course of the three-year project, the Illinois researchers have nailed down the best milling process for extracting these colors from corn kernels and have confirmed that they remain stable in food products. Most recently, they published a study surveying more than 400 lines of corn and documenting their anthocyanin type, concentration and the stability of levels from generation to generation. They found that Peruvian hybrids had the highest concentrations of anthocyanins, as well as the most stable inheritance of them. Now the focus will turn to breeding those Peruvian traits into modern, high-yielding corn hybrids for American growers to plant.

See the initial press release on the project here:… and the most recent developments here:…. You can see the researchers' published study here:….


Did you miss the March 31 deadline to comment on EPA's ecological assessment of pyrethroid insecticides? Don't worry -- so did a lot of other people. Due to "a number of extension requests received from various stakeholders," the EPA is reopening the public comment period until July 7.

Industry representatives are urging farmers to take advantage of the new deadline. "Grower comments are needed to ensure that EPA understands the importance of these pest control tools and that it has the most up-to-date use information to consider in its assessment," said Joan Olson, a PR professional who represents FMC. FMC is the manufacturer of bifenthrin (Brigade), one of the pyrethroids under review by the EPA. Pyrethroids are widely used in over a hundred crops to control a range of insect pests. Row crop farmers most often use them to control the soybean aphid and the western corn rootworm. According to EPA estimates, pyrethroids are applied to 46 million acres annually, with corn, soybean and cotton acres among the most prominent uses.

It's this extensive agricultural use that the EPA targeted in its most recent ecological risk assessment. The agency stated that pyrethroids used in agriculture pose a high risk to aquatic insects, a conclusion that FMC and other pyrethroid manufacturers dispute. See the DTN story here:…. You can read the risk assessment here:… and comment on it here:….


A handful of new genetically modified (GM) crops are moving ahead in regulatory processes around the world. Here in the U.S., the USDA has deregulated a Bayer GM canola trait called MS11 because of its similarities to MS8 canola, the trait in Bayer's Invigor canola hybrids first released in 1999. Like MS8 canola, MS11 canola has been genetically modified to be sterile and tolerate the herbicide glufosinate. The USDA's proposed deregulation is available for public comment through May 30. See it here:….

In the United Kingdom, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), has approved experimental trials of a GM potato variety at the Norwich Research Park from 2017 to 2021. The project, led by The Sainsbury Laboratory, aims to develop a potato resistant to blight and nematodes, with less bruising and less production of acrylamide (a potential carcinogen) during high-temperature cooking. See the announcement here:….

Meanwhile, India's top biotechnology regulatory body, the Ministry of Environment's Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), concluded that GM mustard is safe to be grown and consumed in the country. The mustard variety, Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11, was developed by Delhi University. The committee recommended allowing farmers to plant the new GM mustard for four years. However, the mustard variety must first be approved by India's environment minister. See more information from Science Magazine here:….

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Emily Unglesbee