Seaweed: Sustainable Methods for Extracting Natural Pigments

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By Milthon Lujan

Graphic Summary of the Study. Source: Manzoor et al., (2024); Journal of Agriculture and Food Research.
Graphic Summary of the Study. Source: Manzoor et al., (2024); Journal of Agriculture and Food Research.

The vast ocean, spanning over 70% of our planet, harbors a treasure trove of natural resources that benefit human health and well-being. One of these treasures is seaweed, a rich source of bioactive compounds, vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibers. With the growing interest in healthy and nutritious food options, edible seaweeds are gaining significant recognition.

A team of researchers from Foshan University, South China University of Technology, Yildiz Technical University, Cholistan University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences Bahawalpur, and Tarsus University published a scientific review analyzing scientific advances from 2015 to 2023 in the ecologically-friendly extraction of natural pigments from seaweeds, their therapeutic properties, potential techno-functional properties resulting in food, and their role in intelligent food packaging systems.

Exploring the therapeutic potential of seaweed pigments

The article delves into the fascinating world of natural pigments (NP) derived from seaweeds. These pigments, categorized as carotenoids, chlorophylls, and phycobiliproteins, offer a vibrant palette of colors and possess remarkable therapeutic properties.

Various scientific studies reveal that seaweed’s natural pigments present a variety of health benefits, including:

  • Anticancer: Research suggests potential in combating the growth of cancer cells.
  • Antioxidant: These pigments combat harmful free radicals that contribute to various diseases.
  • Anti-obesity and anti-inflammatory: Natural pigments may play a role in weight control and reducing inflammation.
  • Neuroprotective: Studies indicate potential benefits in protecting brain health.
  • Anti-angiogenic: These pigments may help suppress the formation of new blood vessels, which could aid in controlling certain health conditions.
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Sustainable extraction methods to preserve natural goodness

Conventional methods for extracting natural pigments often rely on harsh chemicals and high temperatures, raising concerns about environmental impact and extraction efficiency.

To address these limitations, researchers are exploring ecologically-friendly extraction techniques to obtain natural pigments from seaweeds, such as:

  • Microwave-assisted extraction (MAE)
  • Ultrasound-assisted extraction (UAE)
  • Enzyme-assisted extraction (EAE)
  • Pressurized liquid extraction (PLE)
  • Supercritical fluid extraction (SFE)

These methods offer eco-friendly processing conditions and improved extraction efficiency, paving the way towards a more sustainable future.

Advantages of green extraction methods

Green extraction methods, such as microwave-assisted extraction (MAE) and ultrasound-assisted extraction (UAE), offer numerous advantages:

  • Reduced environmental impact: They minimize the use of harmful solvents and operate at lower temperatures, making them more sustainable compared to traditional methods.
  • Improved efficiency: These techniques offer shorter extraction times and improved yields, leading to faster and more productive NP production.
  • Preservation of bioactivity: Ecologically-friendly extraction methods help preserve the valuable therapeutic properties of NP, ensuring their effectiveness in various applications.

Uses of seaweed natural pigments

The use of natural pigments from seaweeds goes beyond aesthetics. They offer immense potential in the food industry:

  • Natural food coloring: Replacing synthetic dyes with these natural alternatives provides consumers with healthier food options.
  • Enhanced nutritional value: Seaweed’s natural pigments often contain vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial compounds that enrich the nutritional profile of food products.
  • Improved sensory and technological properties: These pigments can enhance the texture, taste, and overall appeal of foods.

Revolutionizing food packaging with smart sensors

The unique properties of natural pigments are revolutionizing the food packaging industry. They are being incorporated into intelligent food packaging systems for their:

  • Easy preparation and renewability: Natural pigments offer a sustainable and readily available solution.
  • Low toxicity and environmental friendliness: They pose minimal risks to health and the environment.
  • Color-changing ability: Natural pigments can be used as indicators of time, temperature, ripeness, and pH in packaging, ensuring food quality and safety.
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By harnessing the properties of natural pigments derived from seaweeds, we can promote healthier food options, adopt sustainable practices, and minimize environmental impact. With continued research and innovation, seaweed’s natural pigments have immense potential to revolutionize the food and packaging industries, paving the way towards a healthier and more sustainable future.

Continued research into the therapeutic properties and innovative applications of seaweed pigments holds immense promise for the development of:

  • Functional foods: Combining natural pigments with other health-promoting ingredients could lead to the creation of new food products that offer both flavor and health benefits.
  • Personalized nutrition: Understanding individual health needs and tailoring food choices accordingly could become a reality with the help of these versatile pigments. Regarding this, it is important to consider the risks and dangers of seaweed consumption.
  • Advanced food packaging solutions: The development of smart packaging using natural pigments can ensure food safety, minimize waste, and promote responsible food practices.

The study was funded by the Research Initiative of Science and Technology at Foshan University and the Guangdong Provincial Key Laboratory of Intelligent Food Manufacturing.

Murtaza Ali
Guangdong Provincial Key Laboratory of Intelligent Food Manufacturing, School of Food Science and Engineering, Foshan University, Foshan, China.
Email: alimurtaza@aup.edu.pk

Xin-An Zeng
Guangdong Provincial Key Laboratory of Intelligent Food Manufacturing, School of Food Science and Engineering, Foshan University, Foshan, China.
Email: xazeng@scut.edu.cn

Reference (open access)
Manzoor, M. F., Afraz, M. T., Yılmaz, B. B., Adil, M., Naeem, M., Goksen, G., … & Zeng, X. A. (2024). Recent progress in natural seaweed pigments: Green extraction, health-promoting activities, techno-functional properties and role in intelligent food packaging. Journal of Agriculture and Food Research, 100991.