Carminic Acid: Natural colorant for red shades

colorante carmin en la industria alimentaria

Carminic acid is a complex chemical substance used as red dye, extracted from cochineals. It is used as coloring in the cosmetics industry, as well as in the food industry to provide a red color to foods and drinks.

As it was mentioned in other articles, carminic acid is extracted from cochineals, which is a small insect that lives inside tunas, feeding from the juice of its fleshy leafs. The insects that produce this substance are very small, but very rich in dye. Adult females reach up to 21% product in dry weight.

Only for artisanal procedures, dry cochineal is used as natural coloring or pigment. In practice (and almost always in the case of cosmetics), they use cochineal extract, from which carminic acid is extracted. Carminic acid is actually produced when the substance extracted from insects, which by itself has no color, is mixed with a metal such as aluminum, or calcium, and, in some applications (drinks especially), with ammonia.

Some of the features of carminic acid are:

  • It is a pigment in the form of very fine powder of red to purple color, which has several properties that distinguishes it from the red dyes that were used in the past.
  • It is alcohol and water insoluble, but soluble in alkaline environments. This way, if it is washed, it will not be cleaned out. For example, it is very useful for dying fabrics.
  • It has high resistance to heat and chemical oxidation, which is very useful when mixing with hot ingredients in cosmetics or other compounds. In this sense, natural carmine coloring is better than other synthetic dyes.
  • Carminic acid is stable; it does not lose its properties in the short term.
  • The coloring power of carminic acid is outstanding; in fact, it has the highest coloring power, exceeding that of other carminic dyes.
  • Tone varies, in many presentations, depending on the pH where it is dissolved or dispersed: orange (lowest pH), red to orange (medium pH), and purple (for higher pH).

Carminic acid is distributed with different degrees of purity and, in cosmetics, they only can use the highest one. There are several presentations and formulas used for other several purposes: pharmaceutical (toothpaste or mouthwash), cosmetics (i.e., to provide color to different cosmetics or directly in makeup, from lipsticks to eye shadows, as well as foundation, eye liners, etc.) Carmine food coloring provides a very attractive red color to foods, being used in canned vegetables, jams, ice creams, meat and dairy products, such as yogurt and fresh cheese, as well as drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Carminic acid coloring is a suitable substitute for artificial coloring like the red 40.

Cochineal extracts and carminic acid are natural organic colorings, which were 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 -.

Carminic acid color is probably the coloring with the highest technological characteristics among all natural colorings.

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