Home Healthy Eating Carmine (E 120): Application and concern

Carmine (E 120): Application and concern

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 449 views

It is bright red and is often used in the cosmetics and food industries: the dye carmine . It is also known as real carmine, crimson, E 120 or cochineal/cochineal. It is the only food additive that is of animal origin. Read interesting facts about the use of carmine and whether the additive can be harmful.

What is carmine?

Lice have been used for dyeing in Europe since the Iron Age. Specifically: the Kermes scale insects. The so-called real carmine from the scarlet scale insect is a “product” of the Aztecs. They dyed textiles and food with it. When the Spanish conquered Latin America, they brought the dye to Europe.

Carmine is light and heat resistant, even fruit acids cannot harm it. To make it, you need fertilized, dried females of the scarlet scale insect that lives on certain species of cactus in Peru and Mexico. More than 100,000 scale insects are needed to produce one kilogram of carmine (E 120). They are boiled and mixed with chemical additives.

Products with carmine are therefore not vegan.

How is carmine used?

In principle, every bright red food is “suspicious of carmine”. A look at the list of ingredients is therefore advisable in any case if you want to avoid products with carmine.

However, on the recommendation of the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Food, real carmine is only rarely used in food products or alcoholic beverages.

For the typical red drinks such as Campari or Aperol, the synthetically obtained variant E 124 or cochineal red A is now often used.

Where is carmine found?

Foods to which carmine may be added include:

  • jams, marmalades
  • Lemonades, alcoholic beverages (fruit and fruit wines, spirits)
  • meat and sausage products
  • confectionery

In addition, carmine is used for cosmetics such as lipstick, medicines, paints and textiles.

Is Carmine Harmful?

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommends not to exceed a daily amount of five milligrams per kilogram of body weight.

Occasionally there are serious allergic or pseudoallergic reactions in which intolerance symptoms occur without immunological symptoms.

People who, for example, also react to aspirin and/or benzoic or salicylic acid or who suffer from asthma are particularly susceptible to allergies to E 120 . In them, dyes such as carmine can irritate the respiratory system, cause headaches , nausea and skin rashes, among other symptoms.

But if you don’t have any allergies and don’t live vegan, you can basically consume a certain amount of carmine.

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