Scientists have now discovered what causes the blue-black shelled lobsters change color to orange-red while being cooked.
This discovery might have started from scientific curiosity but it could end up with revolutionary applications in the real world like in the food industry, prevention of food poisoning and other potential uses against cancer and cardiovascular problems.
In the wild marine world, lobsters utilize their blue-black shells for camouflage on the seafloor, shielding them from their natural predators. This blue-black color is an indirect result of proteins in the shell known as crustacyanin reacting with the orange-red chemical astaxanthin. This chemical reaction prevents the lobster's natural orange-red color from being seen.
When the sea creatures are subjected to heat via steaming or boiling, the proteins are destroyed, leaving astaxanthin more prominent on the appearance of the lobsters.
In the recent publication online by the Royal Society of Chemistry, scientists discovered that the astaxanthin could behave like an acid, binding itself to the crustacyanin to induce the chemical reaction.
The discovery of how lobsters turned into blue-black shelled creatures was the key factor of the study after years of academic discussion between Manchester University scientists and other international collaborators.
"The coloration is quite a complex process to do with the three dimensional structure of the proteins in complex with the astaxanthins it binds, and the implications could be very useful. For example, astaxanthin is an antioxidant, so it has many health properties. But because it is insoluble in water the problem is how to deliver it to a target. But our findings suggest that mixing it with crustacyanin could do that and allow the astaxanthin to get to a target such as via the stomach," John R. Helliwell, the lead researcher and a professor at the Manchester University, said.
Possible applications in the food industry, for example, are food colorings to produce blue-colored ice cream or use as food markers that change color to know if the ingredient has been properly cooked after reaching a given temperature.
The discovery can also be used to further educate people about the uniqueness of marine creatures.
"Most fundamental of all is arousing the curiosity of children and the public in basic science and our marine environment. In the era of climate change it is important for all to think about the delicate nature of life and the sustainability of life on the planet. How and why has lobster evolved this elaborate and delicate coloration mechanism? It is a beautiful and yet intriguing phenomenon," Helliwell added.
Photo: Naotake Murayama | Flickr