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What is Indigo?

Ancestral dye of plant origin. 

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Blue streaks have been found on Egyptian mummy cloth dating to around 2400 B.C. The earliest example of Indigo use is that of the Harappan civilization, in the Bronze Age, around the  3300 BC, located in areas of present-day India and Pakistan.

In the Northwest, Indigo was processed into small loaves for centuries, exported and brought to Europe, through trade routes (300 BC - 400 AD). The Greeks and Romans obtained small amounts of blue pigment in hard blocks, which is why they thought it was of mineral origin and considered it a luxury product, used for paints, medicines and cosmetics.

In the late 1200s, Marco Polo described that Indigo was not of mineral origin but was extracted from plants. At that time only small quantities of Indigo were available in Europe, due to the high cost  transportation and the tax imposed by merchants along the route.

At the end of the 15th century, Vasco de Gama rediscovered a new sea route to China through which Indigo was imported directly. Large Indigo plantations then began in India and, in 1600, large quantities were imported to Europe. The cost of the Indigo dropped considerably and it was called "Blue Gold",  because it was the ideal commercial product: great value, compact and durable.

Synthetic Indigo.

Already in the 19th century, the production of natural Indigo was not enough to satisfy the demand of the textile industry and, then, the search for synthetic Indigo began. In 1865, Adolf von Baeyer a German chemist began working on the synthesis of Indigo and in 1867, synthetic Indigo was launched on the market. 

At that time, Indigo Natural's production was 19,000 tons and an area of 7,000 km. 2 were dedicated to the cultivation of Indigo, mainly in India. The low cost of synthetic indigo exceeded the consumption of natural indigo for commercial use. This resulted in the fact that by 1914, Indigo's production had been reduced to just 1,000 tons. 

Currently, most commercial dyeing uses synthetic Indigo. In 2002 the production of synthetic Indigo was 17,000 tons. Although the current production of natural Indigo could not keep up with the demand for this dye, serious environmental problems and the increasing demand for natural and sustainable dyes could lead to a resurgence of the production of natural Indigo.

Indigo in Latin America.

In Latin America, the largest producer of natural Indigo is El Salvador, there Indigo plants grow on small farms and it is known throughout the world as Indigo Maya, with a very particular blue color.

Today, farmers are reviving the cultivation of Indigo which has been a traditional crop in that area since 1800.


Indigo Chemistry.

Indigo belongs to the class of dyes called vat dye, this means that its molecules are insoluble in water and in its original state it has no affinity for fiber. First, it must be chemically "reduced", that is, remove some or all of the oxygen.  to convert it into a soluble and fiber-related dye.

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