The term carotene (or carotin) is derived from Latin. It is a pigment made of Carbon and Hydrogen and is unsaturated. While plants can produce carotene, animals cannot. They are photosynthetic pigments important for photosynthesis for plants. Carotene is the reason why carrots are orange in color. Infact, the typical yellow-colored fats in humans and chickens is a result of fat storage of carotenes from their diet.
A carotene molecule has over 40 carbon atoms and the number of hydrogen atoms varies. There are primarily 2 types of carotene, which are basically isomers are: α-carotene and β-carotene. Since carotene molecules have no oxygen, carotenes are fat-soluble and insoluble in water. Some of the foods that are rich in carotene are: carrots, kale, sweet potatoes, mangoes, cantaloupes, apricots, cilantro, broccoli etc.
There are 2 possible ways in which β-carotene can be produced by industrial reactions:
- Wittig reaction: An aldehyde namely Vitamin A is made to react with wittig’s reagent, to produce β-carotene. However the reverse of reaction, i.e. to produce vitamin A from β-carotene is more common.
- Grignard reaction: β-retinyltriphenylphosphonium chloride and retinol recat together in presence of methanol and potassium hydroxide to produce β-carotene. This is BASF method and is widely used in industries. There is another way of producing β-carotene, i.e. by Roche synthesis.
Carotene is also used as a substance to colour products such as juice, cakes, desserts, butter and margarine. It is approved for use as a food additive in the EU (listed as additive E160a) Australia and New Zealand (listed as 160a) and the US. It is also used as antioxidant in foods and beverages. An antioxidant is a substance that inhibits the oxidation of other molecules; it protects the body from free radicals.
It acts as an antioxidant and is believed to lower the risk of cancer and heart disease. Studies have shown that antioxidant supplements may help prevent the deterioration of cognition. Studies have also shown that high blood beta carotene levels compensate for some of the damage to the lungs caused by oxygen free radicals.
It is rich in Vitamin A and is very good for our eyes, skin and hair. Carotene pigments are used in creams, shampoos for this reason.