During the Spanish colony in South America, the cochineal was the most imported product to Spain and Europe, only behind silver, but even more than gold. Used as a dye for textiles, cochineal carmine was the most expensive dye in the world and the most widely used.
Although Mexico is one of the few producers of cochineal in the world, they are also one of the largest importers of carmine, a dye extracted from the insect. Why is this contradiction? Well, to answer this, we must understand how the cochineal is cultivated.
The insect parasitizes itself on the cactus plant, where it lives, feeds and reproduces. In countries like Peru, Ivory Coast and Mexico, this plant is very common and used for the cultivation of the cochineal insect. The difference in Mexico, is that the nopal is a key ingredient in their tortillas for tacos and burritos, traditional Mexican food. Therefore, the carmine market is affected by the tortilla market, which in Mexico is given greater preponderance and value.
This explains why Mexico is one of the countries with the largest cultivation of cactus and cochineal, but at the same time one of the largest importers of carmine dye. The Mexican market for this colouring is basically centred on liquid carmine, although carmine powder is growing more and more in the pulp and juice industries.
It is believed that by 2025, carmine growth will increase by 3% (CAGR) due to the use and versatility of carmine powder, which can be applied in various products such as sausages, beverages, candies, cakes and dairy products.
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