Controlled co-precipitation of biocompatible colorant-loaded nanoparticles by microfluidics for natural color drinks†
Natural colorants, which impart a vivid color to food and add additional health benefits, are favored over synthetic colorants; however, their applications are limited by their low solubility in water and low stability. Here, we develop a versatile microfluidic strategy to incorporate natural colorants in shellac nanoparticles with controlled physicochemical properties. The rapid mixing in the microfluidic channels ensures that the mixing time is shorter than the aggregation time, thus providing control over the co-precipitation of the colorant and the polymer. By introducing molecular interactions, colorant nanoaggregates are efficiently embedded in the polymer matrix, forming hierarchical colorant-loaded nanoparticles. The colorant-loaded nanoparticles dispersed in water are transparent and stable over a wide pH range and their polymer matrix also provides a favorable microenvironment that greatly improves the shelf life of the colorants. The improved solubility, stability and bioavailability of the natural colorants suggest that shellac nanoparticles are ideal carriers and the stable, transparent dispersions of biocompatible colorant-loaded nanoparticles in water are well-suited for the development of functional foods, such as natural color drinks.