Red About Lycopene?

By: Callie Pillsbury on Jul 20, 2017


There are over 600 types of carotenoids in nature. However, only 50 carotenoids are sustained in food, typically fruits and vegetables. And around 25 carotenoids are actually absorbed into the human system. Carotenoids are pigments, which provide many fruits and vegetables with color. The pigments of carotenoids are yellow, orange, and red. Carotenoids are not only beneficial for the color it brings to foods, but also have nutraceutical properties. Carotenoids are antioxidants which neutralize free radicals in the body (1).


carotenoid-liquid-photo.jpgOf these 25 carotenoids absorbed into the human system, lycopene is the most powerful antioxidant. It acts as a potent free radical scavenger. Lycopene is one of the most effective quenchers of a single oxygen (2).It is known as a non-provitamin A nutrient because it cannot be transformed into retinol. Meaning, that lycopene is not a potential source of vitamin A (2).  Lycopene is responsible for the red color found in tomatoes, watermelon, apricots, and papaya. There is also lycopene in tomato based products such as tomato juice, ketchup, and spaghetti sauce. 

Food Serving Size  Lycopene (mg/serving) 
Spaghetti Sauce  1/2 cup  28.1 mg 
Tomato Juice 1 cup  25 mg 
Watermelon  1 slice  14.7 mg 
Grapefruit  1/2 medium  4.9 mg 
Tomato  1 medium  3.7 mg 
Ketchup  1 tbsp  2.7 mg 



Since lycopene is fat soluble, it is best absorbed when fat is present. In tomatoes, lycopene is greatest absorbed when cooked. When the tomato is subjected to heat, the lycopene molecules are reassembled in a way that makes the transportation into the bloodstream more accessible. This reassembly makes the molecule change from a linear conformation (trans form) to a bent conformation (cis form) which eases lycopene’s transformation into the bloodstream and tissues. An efficient approach to receive lycopene in the diet is through tomato sauce. Tomato sauce contains oil and it is heat treated throughout processing. This combination allows for a high potential absorption of lycopene into the body! Furthermore, it has been found that tangerine tomatoes have approximately 95% of lycopene in the bent form. This can lead to approximately 8 X  more lycopene absorption compared to traditional red tomatoes (3).



Lycopene is an antioxidant. Antioxidants destroy free radicals to help in preventing the accumulation of cancer cells. One study even showed that regularly consuming a serving or more of tomatoes has the potential to reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men (1). Additional studies should be conducted to determine the possible benefits for lycopene.


Atherosclerosis is a disease that causes plaques to form and buildup inside the arteries. Lycopene decreases plaque buildup by protecting LDL from oxidation. A study administered in the Netherlands at Erasmus University showed some promise that the lycopene could potentially decrease atherosclerosis risk (1). Additionally, there is research of lycopene lowering cholesterol levels by obstructing HMG-COA reductase, the enzyme responsible for creating cholesterol (4).  Additional studies will need to be completed and reviewed before any recommendations can be made.


In the food industry, lycopene can be encapsulated using the spray drying technique. This encapsulation by spray drying will grant greater stability of the lycopene during storage. The encapsulation improves the antioxidant capacity and lycopene content of the product. Encapsulated lycopene in a food system can deliver lycopene during preparation and uniformly add color to the food system (5).

Learn More

Find out more about Spray Drying from our website.


1. Kirschmann, J. D. (2007). Nutrition almanac (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

2. Carotenoids. (2014, April 28). Retrieved May 30, 2017, from 

3.Heat, Shape and Type: Increasing Lycopene Absorption. (n.d.). Retrieved May 30, 2017, from

4.  Alvi, S. S., Iqbal, D., Ahmad, S., & Khan, M. S. (2016). Molecular rationale delineating the role of lycopene as a potent HMG-CoA reductase inhibitor: in vitro and in silico study. Natural Product Research, 30(18), 2111–2114.

5. Microencapsulation of lycopene by spray drying: Characterization, stability and application of microcapsules - Food and Bioproducts Processing. (n.d.). Retrieved May 30, 2017, from