Carminic acid, which has a name derived from the Arabic-Persian word kermes, a red berry, is a complex substance used as red coloring extracted from cochineals (Dactylopius coccus). Cochineal is a small insect that lives inside tunas, feeding from the juice of the fleshy leafs it parasitizes, in the cladodes or main ribs of the tuna cactus.
In Europe, carminic acid is obtained from native insects at least since the Iron Age, and remains have been discovered, for example, in Hallstadt culture tombs. In Peru, we can find it since pre-Columbian Era in Paracas culture textiles.
Carminic acid is used as a coloring agent in cosmetics (lipsticks, blushes, eye shadows, etc.) and as E120 in the food industry providing a carmine color to food products. As we mentioned earlier, it is widely used in meat products providing a color from pink to deep red to food products.
However, it is not only used in meat products; it can be found in syrups, sweets, jams, gums, industrial cakes, vegetable preserves, ice creams, and dairy products, such as strawberry and red fruits yogurts, and drinks like sodas, fruit juices, and energy drinks. All of them contain E120!
This natural coloring is classified as FD&C by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States, and are included in the list of additives of the European Economic Community (currently known as European Union), within the allowed toxicity parameters – Acceptable Daily Intake ADI -.
It is probably the natural coloring with the best technological characteristics among natural colorings used to provide an attractive red color.
Then, are carminic acid and E120 the same? Basically, yes.
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