Bixin and norbixin: production process

Bixin and norbixin are natural pigments from annatto seeds, being widely used in food, pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries

Annatto is a natural, orange-yellow pigment extracted from the seeds of the tree also called achiote (its botanical name is Bixia Orellana) native from South America. Historically, it was used as body paint, sunscreen and even as a natural insect repellent. Now, is used worldwide in both domestic kitchens and industrial factories and it is grown in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The seeds of this plant contain a fine dust inside from where we can extract a natural dye that is part of the family of carotenoids: vegetable pigments found in the nugget coating. In most cases, it is ground into powder or paste for use.

One of the pigments extracted from achiote is known as bixin, used to color oil-based products. To prepare it, the annatto seed is extracted and concentrated with an alkaline medium that can be soda or potassium hydroxide plus water. Subsequently, it´s precipitated with sulfuric acid obtaining an orange paste, (called bixin). Finally, this paste is semi-dried and once it is ready, is mixed with oil to obtain Annatto oil suspention (AOS)

The same orange paste obtained it’s converted into norbixin, which is soluble in water by a chemical reaction called saponification. This process consists of mixing the bixin paste and sodium hydroxide, changing its physical and chemical properties. The result: chemical structure changes from bixin to norbixin making it soluble in water.

Bixin and norbixin are compounds something different: while bixin is dispersible in oil, norbixin is soluble in water. Generally, these derivatives of annatto are used as an extract in the food industries. They are appreciated as source of pigments that give orange-yellow color.

Regarding the application of each pigment, the dye extracted from bixin it is applied to cheese, sauces, condiment mixtures, snacks, in bakeries and all the necessary mixtures in oil.  On the other hand, norbixin it is used in dairy products, beverages, cheese, fish, seafood, and sauces. If you want more information about our products and services contact us here.

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