Extraction of phycocyanin-A Natural Blue Colorant From Dried Spirulina Biomass: Influence of Processing Parameters and Extraction Techniques

J Food Sci. 2020 Mar;85(3):727-735. doi: 10.1111/1750-3841.14842. Epub 2020 Jan 30.


Phycocyanin, a natural blue colorant, is typically extracted from liquid biomass of Arthrospira platensis, a blue-green algae called spirulina. In this study, we developed a scalable process to extract phycocyanin from dried spirulina biomass. First, we established the optimal ionic strength and pH for the extraction buffer. The results showed that a minimum ionic strength (>5 g/L NaCl) must be maintained to minimize the co-extraction of the green chlorophyll. The optimal pH of the phosphate buffer (100 mM) for phycocyanin extraction is 7.5; however, the pH should be immediately adjusted to 6.0 to 6.5 after the extraction to keep phycocyanin stable. Second, we also investigated three processing techniques, that is, high-pressure processing (HPP), pulsed electric field (PEF), and ultrasonication, to break the cell walls of spirulina and facilitate the release of phycocyanins into extraction buffers. HPP and PEF do not lead to the release of phycocyanin into the extraction buffer. However, ultrasonication breaks down the spirulina into fine particles and releases most of the phycocyanin, along with other impurities, immediately after the treatment. Last, it has been revealed that most of the phycocyanin can be extracted from biomass within 3 hr by phosphate buffer only (pH 7.5, 100 mM) at room temperature. It is concluded that there is no need to treat the rehydrated biomass solution by HPP, PEF, or ultrasonication due to the minimal benefits they brought for the extraction. Based on these results, we proposed an extraction process for the plant production of phycocyanin starting from dried spirulina biomass. PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS: Limited information can be found on the extraction of phycocyanin from dried spirulina biomass, especially how to better preserve the natural blue color of phycocyanin during extraction. We have investigated the method and presented a different view from previous processes. Pulsed electric field, high-pressure processing, and ultrasonication were employed to accelerate the extraction of phycocyanin from dried biomass. However, it was found that, unlike the extraction from live wet biomass, these techniques do not help with the extraction from dried biomass. Based on investigations, we have proposed a process that can be easily scaled up for the commercial production of phycocyanin from dried spirulina biomass.

Keywords: HPP; PEF; blue color; extraction; freeze-thaw; phycocyanin; spirulina; ultrasonication.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Biomass
  • Chemical Fractionation / instrumentation
  • Chemical Fractionation / methods*
  • Chlorophyll / analysis
  • Chlorophyll / isolation & purification
  • Food Coloring Agents / analysis
  • Food Coloring Agents / isolation & purification*
  • Food Handling / instrumentation
  • Food Handling / methods*
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Phycocyanin / analysis
  • Phycocyanin / isolation & purification*
  • Spirulina / chemistry*
  • Spirulina / growth & development


  • Food Coloring Agents
  • Phycocyanin
  • Chlorophyll