Carmine is a red dye that’s found in some foods and body products. It’s also known as cochineal extract or Dactylopius coccus Costa and is harvested from insects native to South America and Mexico that live as parasites on cactus plants. It’s been used for thousands of years, and it has excellent heat stability and light resistance. Unfortunately, it can cause severe allergic reactions in some people.
In liquid form, it’s usually offered as a 3% to 7.5% solution of carminic acid, alkalized with ammonium or potassium hydroxide. This is a powerful chemical that should be handled with care and precautions. In powdered form, it can be added to dry mixes, surimi, bakery icings and candy. It can also be used in beverages, frozen fish and meats, pet food, jams and preserves, and pharmaceutical coatings and dry formulations. It’s also a popular color in cosmetics such as lipsticks, eye shadow and lip glosses.
Carmine has a long history as a natural red food dye. It’s an inexpensive, bright and stable color that can be combined with other colors to create a wide variety of shades. The problem is that it’s extracted from insect shells and can trigger severe allergic reactions in some people. For this reason, the FDA requires that it be clearly labeled as an ingredient on food products. It is also a common allergen in perfumes and dyed textiles. In addition, it is listed as a potential cancer-causing agent by the American Cancer Society and has been linked to increased risks of ovarian cancer in women.