Talcott presented his teams' advances at the American Chemical Society meeting occurring this week in Indiana. The left-overs from Talcott's process can be fed to livestock, used to produce biofuel or composted.
Currently, most red food coloring originates in a lab, while some comes from the cochineal insect. Approximately 2,500 cochineal insects must be sacrificed to create one ounce of carmine, a red dye used in candy, yoghurt, ice cream and other foods.
Cochineal insects dine on prickly pear cactus in Mexico and Central America. The bugs have been collected for centuries to make dye. The bugs once reddened the robes of Aztec emperors, then became the center of a lucrative international trade, until competition from cheaper synthetic dyes reduced demand.
The purple potato anthocyanins, which could replace both bug and lab-made dyes, may have health benefits, but the jury is still out.
PHOTOS: Autumn Colors
A 2009 study in the Journal of Medicinal Food suggested that anthocyanins may attach to the same brain sites as marijuana and may have pain-killing and anti-inflammatory properties. Anthocyanins are anti-oxidants, chemicals that can help reduce harmful and carcinogenic substances in the body. However, doctors haven't found proof that the anthocyanin anti-oxidants survive beyond the digestive system.