Lycopene is a naturally occurring, bright red pigment that gives tomatoes their colour. The word lycopene actually comes from the Latin, lycopersicum, which is the scientific name for the tomato species (Solanum lycopersicum).
Other fruits and vegetables that contain lycopene include papayas, watermelon, and pink grapefruit.
Lycopene is an anti-oxident and one of the main carotenoids found in the diet of North Americans.
As a food additive, lycopene can be found in beverages, dairy products, sauces, and candy.1
It is also commonly found in vitamin supplements, and it cosmetics.
Health Issues / Side Effects:
Lycopene obtained from eating fruits and vegetables has no known side effects and is thought to be safe for humans.
The potential side effects of lycopene supplements are not fully known. According to the American Cancer Society, one study showed that patients who took a lycopene-rich tomato supplement of 15 milligrams twice a day had some intestinal side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, indigestion, gas, and bloating.
Supplements containing antioxidants such as lycopene can also interfere with radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Even though studies have not been done in humans, antioxidants are known to clean up free radicals, which could interfere with one of the methods by which chemotherapy and radiation destroy cancer cells. Eating fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants is still considered safe during cancer treatment.
When consumed over a long period of time, very large amounts of tomato products can give the skin an orange color.2
The E number of lyopene is 160d. Other related additives include:
- Carotenes (160a)
- Annatto extracts (160b)
- Paprika oleoresins (160c)
- b-apo-8′ carotenal (160e)
- b-apo-8′ carotenic acid methyl or ethyl ester (160f)
These are all basically used as yellow-orange-red food dyes.
Because lycopene is naturally derived, and does not contain animal products, it is apparently becoming a popular substitute for more common food dyes (such as carmine). I cannot really verify this, because, in Canada at least, many products simply list colour as an ingredient without actually saying what type of food coloring was used.
Starbucks has recently announced that they are replacing some of their existing colours with lycopene. This move was in response to public pressure over the use of food colourings made from insects.3