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Natural pigment - another fungal property and potential product

In Sweden, intensive research is ongoing at the University of Borås on how fungi can be used. Together with various organic wastes, fungi can be used to produce bioplastic, biogas, and protein. Another area of use is to produce natural pigments for colouring - something that is important in the food sector.

In Sweden, research is ongoing at the University of Borås on how fungi can be used as part of the circular economy to produce bioplastic, biogas, protein and natural pigments for colouring (photo courtesy University of Borås).

In this research project, Rebecca Gmoser, a doctoral student in resource recovery, has investigated various factors that affect the fungal cultivation processes to see what makes it increase or decrease pigment production.

We have seen that this fungus produces an orange colour in nature. It is the same substance found tomatoes or carrots. The pigment acts as a protection for the fungus, she explained.

In the project, Gmoser has carried out various experiments to design a cultivation process for best pigment production.

For example, it was not always possible to get it to form pigment when it grew in a liquid substrate. I had to find factors that stressed the fungus, which is light, to grow in solid form, high airing and poor access to nutrition, said Rebecca Gmoser.

Can replace synthetic pigment

Pigments are used in a variety of industries including food, to give food a more appetizing colour. At present, synthetic pigments are often used. With the fungi, the pigment is both natural and edible as it is and can be used, for example, in petfood or aquafeed for salmon production.

The project has been carried out together with Sweden’s largest ethanol producer Lantmännen Agroetanol, a subsidiary of Sweden-headed agricultural cooperative Lantmännen Group. The substrate used to grow the fungus consists of residues from the ethanol industry.

But at the moment it is not economically viable, as the process still takes a long time and requires large areas, remarked Rebecca Gmoser.


In other projects, this may change and Rebecca Gmoser will, among other things, participate in a recently launched “Ways2Taste” project to try if it is possible to use other organic residual products as a substrate and work further on designing the process.

A 40-month project funded under the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) that started in September 2018, the 18 partner consortium consists of food industries and research institutes in the Västra Götland Region (VGR) in western Sweden.

Ways2Taste aims to develop several process concepts for processing residual organic products using edible filamentous fungi on a small and large scale and to develop the results into complete process solutions with associated financial evaluation including Life Cycle Analysis (LCA).

Rebecca Gmoser, a doctoral student in resource recovery at the University of Borås, Sweden is conducting research on the design of a fungi cultivation process for pigment production (photo courtesy University of Borås).

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