Recent epidemiological studies demonstrating the wide range of health benefits from tomatoes have precipitated numerous clinical investigations at hospitals and universities. The ongoing reports of these studies published in scientific journals and popular health magazines, have kept tomatoes, tomato extracts and tomato phytonutrients in the public eye. This intense media interest has helped to create greater opportunities for suppliers and manufacturers of tomato-based products.
Recently, Dr. E. Giovannucci, from Harvard Medical School, reviewed 72 epidemiological studies. He found that 57 of the 72 pointed to the role of tomato products in reducing the risk of a variety of cancers. Tomatoes are high in a number of nutrients, but most significantly tomatoes provide us with the potent antioxidant, lycopene which is absorbed into the tissues, reducing the oxidative damage that leads to oxidative stress. Previous investigations have shown that a tomato diet inhibits oxidation of LDL cholesterol, reduces the incidence of cardiovascular diseases and decreases the danger of macular degeneration and many other degenerative conditions.
Functional food and dietary supplement manufacturers have turned with increasing interest to tomato extract as a nutrient and as a natural food colorant. Tomatoes possess the antioxidant action of lycopene plus the health benefits of beta-carotene, tocopherols, phytoene, phytofluene and phytosterols. It is this combination of synergistic phytonutrients that renders the tomato a valuable source ingredient for functional foods. As a colorant, the lycopene that gives tomatoes their juicy red colour is an ideal alternative to artificial food colouring, providing natural colour and nutritional benefit.
An Israeli company, LycoRed Natural Products Industries, Ltd. has made the nutritional and functional benefits of the tomato available to the industry through their development of LYC-O-MATO. Many years of development have produced a healthy, natural alternative to artificial colorants. Unlike synthetic lycopene, natural lycopene is approved for food use as a colorant in Europe and Japan. The food supplement industry in Europe and the US has taken advantage of high-lycopene tomato extracts as an ingredient in supplements aimed at conditions as diverse as prostate and heart health, menopause and oxidative stress.
Tomato extract is available in a diversity of forms including a tomato oleoresin, powder for dry premixes and formulations, microcrystals suspended in glycerol and stabilized with lecithin and sucrose esters to prevent agglomeration or separation, and as a cold water dispersible spray- dried suspension of fine lycopene crystals on a maltodextrin carrier. The variety of forms renders the extract suitable for applications ranging from soft gels, tablets and hard-shell capsules to beverages and other food products.
Japan takes the lead with tomato lycopene-enriched and coloured food products. Coca Cola Japan recently introduced "Red Orange", a functional beverage containing 10 per cent fruit and 10 per cent fruit and vegetable juices. "Water Salad" belongs to the "near water" category. It is a light reddish colour, almost transparent and contains tomato extract as both a natural vegetable colorant and as a nutrient. "Water Salad" takes advantage of the marketing value of tomato extract by claiming on the bottle label that lycopene is "reported to control active oxygen." "Pinkie Grapefruit", also from Japan, makes antioxidant claims on the ingredient that gives this beverage its pink colour. Kagome Japan, the leading tomato processor, produces a line of products ranging from juice to ketchup, and they quantify the lycopene in the ingredient listings on the product labels.
Closer to home, Libby's has taken the lead by being the first to declare the health benefits of tomato juice right on the label. Libby's label informs the astute consumer "a 200ml glass of juice provides 5mg of lycopene which gives tomatoes their red colour and is a proven antioxidant. There is mounting evidence that it helps the body fight cell-damaging free radicals."
As more scientific data becomes available and consumer interest in tomato products continues to grow, manufacturers of functional foods and dietary supplements look set to reap the benefits of the humble tomato well into the future.
Natural Products Industries Ltd.
P.O. Box 320
Beer-Sheva 84102, Israel