Surely you have heard from “carmine”. Its use dates to the time when Europeans visited America in the 15th century and the Aztecs introduced them to cochineal extract. At that time, the red dye extracted from cochineal insects was used for dyeing fabrics. From this first application in textiles developed, among others, the food color E120 carmine, which reached worldwide fame.

Production of carmine

In the production of E120 carmine the cochineal bugs are pulled from the cacti, then killed by immersion in hot water or by exposure to sunlight, steam, or an oven’s heat. They are then sun-dried, crushed, and dipped in an acidic solution to produce carminic acid that eventually transforms into carmine. This process requires thousands of insects to produce one kilogram of the dye.

Uses & Challenges Carmine

Although the origin of carmine is disputed, the dye carmine continues to be used in products of all kinds due to its excellent color, light, heat and light stability. The use of E120 carmine comes with some challenges. You’ve probably already guessed the first challenge, as vegans and vegetarians are against harming or eating animals and therefore against the use of carmine. Furthermore, the past has shown that there are a lot of people who are allergic to carmine.

Synthetic alternatives

Given the issues associated with carmines, the coloring industry has sought out alternatives and now offers a variety of synthetic dyes. Diverse grades with different shades produce perfect color shades, depending on customer-specific requirements. Consumer reservations about additives has further driven progress and natural substitutes for carmine have been developed.

Natural substitute products

Plant-based alternative products of natural origin convince ALL. The red-giving color comes from a variety of fruits or vegetables. We are pleased to present the most common options below:

Red Beet

The various qualities from beetroot, which range from a deep, raspberry-like color with blue notes to a bright strawberry red, are convincing due to their high heat resistance or good water solubility, for example.


Anthocyanins are another plant-based alternative. These are blue, red, or violet pigments that occur naturally in plants, especially in fruits, flowers and tubers. They include black and purple carrots, red cabbage, elderberry, grape skins, and many others. The highly functional qualities of our manufacturing partner ROHA help overcome obstacles such as pH limitations or heating.

Red coloring

Our manufacturing partner ROHA’s ( broad portfolio of red food colors features diverse solutions from the synthetic range (IDACOL) and the natural origins (NATRACOL and FUTURALS). The options from the FUTURALS range are particularly noteworthy, as these grades are not only of plant origin, but also meet the requirements in terms of clean labelling.


The red revolution is underway, and the dye carmine from cochineal scale insects is now finally going to have its day. We support you in finding suitable alternative products for your specific application.

To get an idea of the possibilities in terms of red coloring, you can download the brochures FUTURALS, NATRACOL and IDACOL.

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