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  Carmine (IPA: /ˈkɑrmaɪn, -mɪn, -miːn/), also called Crimson Lake, Cochineal, Natural Red 4, C.I. 75470 or E120, is a pigment of a bright red color obtained from the carminic acid produced by some scale insects, such as the cochineal and the Polish cochineal, and is used as a general term for a particularly deep red color. Carmine is used in the manufacture of artificial flowers, paints, rouge, cosmetics, food additives, and crimson ink.



Carmine may be prepared from cochineal, by boiling dried insects in water to extract the carminic acid and then treating the clear solution with alum, cream of tartar, stannous chloride, or potassium hydrogen oxalate; the coloring and animal matters present in the liquid are thus precipitated. Other methods are in use; sometimes egg white, fish glue, or gelatine are added before the precipitation.

The quality of carmine is affected by the temperature and the degree of illumination during its preparation, sunlight being requisite for the production of a brilliant hue. It differs also according to the amount of alumina present in it. It is sometimes adulterated with cinnabar, starch and other materials; from these the carmine can be separated by dissolving it in ammonia. Good carmine should crumble readily between the fingers when dry.

Carmine lake is a pigment obtained by adding freshly precipitated alumina to decoction of cochineal.

Carmine can be used as a staining agent in microbiology, as a Best's carmine to stain glycogen, mucicarmine to stain acidic mucopolysaccharides, and carmalum to stain cell nuclei. In these applications, it is applied together with a mordant, usually an Al(III) salt.

Allergic reactions to carmine

Carmine is used as a food dye in many different products such as juice, ice cream, yogurt, and candies, eyeshadow, lipstick, etc. Although principally a red dye, it is found in many foods that are shades of red, pink, and purple. As a food dye it has been known to cause severe allergic reactions and anaphylactic shock in some people[1].

Food products containing carmine-based food dye may prove to be a concern for people who are allergic to carmine, or people who choose not consume any or certain animals, such as vegetarians, vegans, and followers of religions with dietary law (e.g. kashrut in Judaism and halaal in Islam).

Local regulations for use of Carmine in foodstuffs

In the United States

In the United States, carmine is approved as dye for foodstuffs.

Carmine is not required by the FDA to be explicitly named in all ingredient lists, and may sometimes be represented under "natural coloring" or "added coloring." As of the end of January 2006, the FDA is evaluating a proposal[1] that would require food products containing carmine to list it by name on the ingredient label. It was also announced[citation needed] that the FDA will separately review the ingredient labels of prescription drugs which contain colorings derived from carmine. A request from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (article titled: "FDA Urged to Improve Labeling of or Ban Carmine Food Coloring" [2])[citation needed] to require ingredient labels to explicitly state that carmine may cause severe allergic reactions and anaphylactic shock and that is derived from insects was declined by the FDA. Food industries were aggressively opposed to the idea of writing "insect based" on the label and they finally agreed to simply putting "carmine."[citation needed]

Although concerns over hazards from allergic reactions have been asserted, the United States Food and Drug Administration agency (FDA) has not banned the use of carmine and states it found no evidence of a "significant hazard" to the general population.[3]

In the European Union

In the European Union the use of carmine in foodstuffs is regulated under the European Commission's directives governing food additives in general ([4], [5]) and food dyes in particular ([6]) and listed under the names Cochineal, Carminic acid, Carmines and Natural Red 4 as additive E 120 in the list of EU-approved food additives ([7]). The directive governing food dyes approves the use of carmine for certain groups of foodstuffs only (a list of approved uses is included in Annexes I and III of EU-Directive 94/36 [8]) and specifies a maximum amount which is permitted or restricts it to the quantum satis.

The EU-Directive 2000/13/EC [9] on food labeling mandates that carmines (like all food additives) must be included in the list of ingredients of a food product with its additive category and listed name or additive number, that is either as Food colour carmines or as Food colour E 120 in the local language(s) of the market(s) the product is sold in.

Although concerns of hazards from allergic reactions were raised, the use of carmine in foodstuffs is not banned in the EU. However, the use of carmine in foodstuffs has been discouraged by European food safety authorities, and although it is predominately used as colouring in alcoholic beverages, it can still be found in foods such as supermarket Indian curries. A re-evaluation process of the approval status of several food colors (including carmine) was started by the Panel on food additives, flavourings, processing aids and materials in contact with food of the European Food Safety Authority in early 2006 and is scheduled to be completed by 2008 ([10] Accessed on 2 January 2007, [11])


  1. ^ Dye may cause some consumers to bug out
  • Amy Butler Greenfield – A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire, Harper Collins, 2005. ISBN 0-06-052275-5
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Carmine". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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