What Is Carmine and Where Does it Come From
Carmine is a red coloring that is used in a variety of food products. Carmine is added to everything from fruit juices, to gelatins and candies, to heighten the red coloring and make it more appealing to consumers. The brighter the color, as manufacturers insist, the more likely that consumers will buy the product. Therefore, manufacturers add carmine food coloring to products as a marketing tool. The carmine has no additional flavor and adds no nutritional value to food products.
What most consumers do not know is that carmine is actually coloring that comes from beetles. The beetles are harvested specifically to extract the carminic acid that creates the familiar red food coloring. Carmine is not harmful to consumers. Specifically, manufacturers harvest the females of the beetle, dactylopius coccus, which subsists on a cactus called opuntia. The harvesting occurs after the females have fertilized their eggs. The majority of carmine is harvested in Peru and the Canary Islands, then imported to the United States.
How the Beetles are Harvested
The harvesting process begins when the beetles are taken from the cacti where they are grown and placed in bags. The bags are taken to the production facility that manufactures the cochineal (the material that makes the actual carminic acid from which the dye is created). There they are killed in various processes that either involve immersing them in hot water or exposing them to heat, such as sunlight, steam or oven heat. Producing the cochineals requires an inordinate amount of insects. For instance, 70,000 insects make up at least 1 pound of cochineal. Therefore thousands upon thousands of these beetles are grown, harvested and killed for their cochineal.
How Carmine Is Made
The process in which the dyes are made begins after the beetles are dried. The abdomens and fertilized eggs of the beetles, which contain the most carminic acid, are removed from the bodies. The abdomen and eggs are ground down into a fine powder, which is then baked in ovens at 212 degrees F or more. The baking process breaks down the particles in the grounded powder from which the actual color of the carminic acid is distilled. The particles of carmine are then separated from the baked solution through a filtering process. The solution is placed in a cooking container. The particles of carmine fall to the bottom of the container, creating two layers– liquid and carmine. Once the liquid is removed from the container, the extracted carmine is left behind. This is the purest form of carmine, which is then used to create the food coloring dye.