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120 Cochineal, Carmines, or Carminic acid

Posted 19 Oct 2023
120 Cochineal, Carmines, or Carminic acid

What do the terms cochineal, carmines, and carminic acid mean, and where are they used?

Cochineal, carmines, and carminic acid are related terms associated with a natural red food colourant derived from cochineal insects (Dactylopius coccus) [1-3]. Here's a breakdown of each:

Cochineal refers to the small scale insects that feed on specific cacti, primarily the prickly pear cactus [4]. These insects contain carminic acid, a vibrant red pigment responsible for their coloration [1-3].

Carmine is the name given to the colourant extracted from crushed cochineal insects [1-3]. After harvesting, drying, and crushing the insects, the resulting red pigment is further processed to create carmine, which serves as a natural red food colourant.

Carminic acid is the specific compound found in cochineal insects that produces the red colour [1-3]. It is a natural pigment extracted from the insects and commonly used as a colouring agent in various food and cosmetic products [5-6].

Purported Health Benefits

While carmines, as a product derived from cochineal insects, contain carminic acid, it is the carminic acid itself that is more directly associated with the health benefits.

  • Antioxidant properties: Carminic acid and carmines contain antioxidant compounds that help protect the body against oxidative stress and damage caused by free radicals [3, 7]. Antioxidants play a vital role in maintaining overall health and reducing the risk of chronic diseases.

  • Anti-inflammatory effects: Research suggests that carminic acid may possess anti-inflammatory properties through inhibiting the production or activity of certain pro-inflammatory molecules, such as cytokines and enzymes [3, 7-8]. Inflammation is associated with various health conditions, and thus carminic acid may help mitigate inflammation-related symptoms.

  • Potential immune support: Carminic acid and carmines may contribute to the body’s immune response, but the exact mechanisms are not well known [9-10]. 

  • Nutrient-rich supplementation: Surprisingly, there are trace amounts of protein, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, which can add to the nutritional profile of products containing carmines [11-12].

Recommendations for Safe Consumption

While carminic acid is derived from a natural source, it undergoes processing and purification before being used as a food colourant. Some individuals may have allergies or sensitivities to carminic acid or carmine [9-10]. If you have a known allergy to insects or experience any adverse reactions after consuming products containing carminic acid, such as hives, itching, or difficulty breathing, it is important to seek medical advice and avoid further consumption.


  1. Borges ME, Tejera RL, Díaz L, Esparza P, Ibáñez E. Natural dyes extraction from cochineal (Dactylopius coccus). New extraction methods. Food Chemistry. 2012 Jun 15;132(4):1855-60.

  2. Dapson RW. The history, chemistry and modes of action of carmine and related dyes. Biotechnic & Histochemistry. 2007 Jan 1;82(4-5):173-87.

  3. Dweck AC. Natural ingredients for colouring and styling. International journal of cosmetic science. 2002 Oct;24(5):287-302.

  4. Cota-Sánchez JH. Nutritional composition of the prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) fruit. InNutritional composition of fruit cultivars 2016 Jan 1 (pp. 691-712). Academic Press.

  5. DiCello MC, Myc A, Baker Jr JR, Baldwin JL. Anaphylaxis after ingestion of carmine colored foods: two case reports and a review of the literature. InAllergy and asthma proceedings 1999 Nov 1 (Vol. 20, No. 6, p. 377). OceanSide Publications.

  6. Ramesh M, Muthuraman A. Flavoring and coloring agents: Health risks and potential problems. InNatural and artificial flavoring agents and food dyes 2018 Jan 1 (pp. 1-28). Academic Press.

  7. González EA, García EM, Nazareno MA. Free radical scavenging capacity and antioxidant activity of cochineal (Dactylopius coccus C.) extracts. Food chemistry. 2010 Mar 1;119(1):358-62.

  8. Bora P, Das P, Bhattacharyya R, Barooah MS. Biocolour: The natural way of colouring food. Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry. 2019;8(3):3663-8.

  9. Lucas CD, Hallagan JB, Taylor SL. The role of natural color additives in food allergy.

  10. Takeo N, Nakamura M, Nakayama S, Okamoto O, Sugimoto N, Sugiura S, Sato N, Harada S, Yamaguchi M, Mitsui N, Kubota Y. Cochineal dye-induced immediate allergy: review of Japanese cases and proposed new diagnostic chart. Allergology International. 2018;67(4):496-505.

  11. Chattopadhyay P, Chatterjee S, Sen SK. Biotechnological potential of natural food grade biocolorants. African Journal of Biotechnology. 2008;7(17).

  12. Gorbunova NA, Zakharov AN. Edible insects as a source of alternative protein. A review. Теория и практика переработки мяса. 2021;6(1):23-32.


We do our best to source robust information from a number of credible sources.  There is, however, a large amount of information on various aspects of nutritional elements along with  claims in terms of their contribution to helping in body health which may contradict the above.