Cochineal Carmine

carmin de cochinilla

In order to talk about the Cochineal Carmine, first you have to talk about the Cochineal. The Cochineal (Dactylopius coccus) is an insect parasite of the hemiptera plants that belongs to the Dactylopidae family, which develops in the bunch of tuna. It is mainly used for the extraction of the dye composed of two substances known as carmine and carminic acid.

It originates from Peru and Mexico. However, Peru is currently the main producer of cochineal in the world.

The Peruvian cochineal has a high value on the international market and its demand is increasing due to the use of synthetic dyes derived from oil and coal, which are questioned for their toxic effects. The red synthetic dyes, which are used to give color to food, have been replaced by the red pigment of the cochineal.

The red pigment of the cochineal in pre-Columbian times was used by ancient Peruvians to dye wool and cotton red. The cochineal lives above the bunch of Opuntia ficus tuna, which provides it with water and food. The tuna grows wild in the inter-Andean valleys of Peru.


Carmine is one of the oldest dyes, obtained from carminic acid produced by the cochineal. It is used as a pigment or as a dye. When it is used as a pigment (liquid) its method of staining is by dissolution and in it the intensity of the colouring is directly proportional to its purity. When it is used as a dye (solid) its method of staining is by dispersion (distribution of the colour throughout the material to be placed) and in it the strength of the colouring is not proportional to its purity.

This dye is used as an additive in food, medicine and cosmetics. It is classified by the FD&C of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is included in the list of additives of the European Economic Community (now European Union) in the permitted toxicity parameters – Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI).

Among the natural colours, it is probably the colour with the best technological characteristics. It gives a very pleasant red colour to food, and is used in canned vegetables and jellies, ice cream, meat and dairy products, such as yoghurt, fresh barbecue and drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.

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