Vitatene, a subsidiary of Spanish penicillin firm Antibioticos, has applied for novel foods approval to market lycopene extracted from the fungus Blakeslea trispora on the European market.
Lycopene, the carotenoid associated with reduced risk of prostate cancer, is currently extracted with solvents from tomatoes and approved for use as an additive (E127) and an ingredient in a range of foods and dietary supplements.
Synthetic lycopene is also used as a food ingredient but is not permitted for use as a colour additive.
Blakeslea trispora is a fungus that synthesises large quantities of carotenoids. Vitatene manufactures lycopene by co-fermentation of two strains of the fungus. Lycopene is then extracted using solvents from the fermentation broth and finally formulated into an oil suspension, with added tocopherol, for packaging.
The fungus source however means that the lycopene is a novel food and must be approved by regulatory authorities under the 1997 regulation for novel foods.
The EU Scientific Committee on Food approved the safety of beta-carotene obtained by fermentation of Blakeslea trispora in 2000. If lycopene from the same source is approved, it could be added to various products such as soft drinks, cereal bars and energy tablets, suggests Vitatene.
Lycopene is gaining interest as an ingredient in men's health supplements although a recent study found that lycopene alone is not as effective on prostate health as when combined with other phytochemicals in tomatoes.
Lycopene is also thought to help prevent cancer and heart disease, thought to be a result of its antioxidant potential. Tapping into growing consumer interest in the ingredient, a Japanese firm has recently introduced lycopene sweets, called Morinaga's Small Tomato Candies, which contain 15mg of lycopene, derived from Kagome's Lilico branded tomatoes (known to contain three times more lycopene than regular tomatoes).
The UK's Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP), an independent scientific committee that advises the Foods Standards Agency, will discuss the application for Blakeslea trispora-derived lycopene at a meeting this week. Any comments on the application should be sent to the ACNFP Secretariat by 5 December 2003 and will be passed to the committee before it finalises its opinion on the novel food ingredient.