Is Carmine Vegan?
Carmine is a deep red pigment used in many commercial products, including several food products. Carmine is often confused with Red 40, a pigment made from coal tar, because carmine is sometimes labeled as “Natural Red 4.” Carmine also goes by: crimson lake, cochineal, C.I. 75470, and E120. Carmine is not vegan because it is made from scaled insects, such as the cochineal bug.
How Carmine Is Made
Carmine is produced by boiling scaled insects, like the cochineal bug, in water, ammonia, or a sodium carbonate solution to extract the carminic acid. The clear solution is then treated with alum to bring out the red color.
Popular Products Containing Carmine
Carmine is used in a wide variety of vitamins, foods, and other products that require a red pigment. Some popular items include: Betty Crocker Red Velvet cake mix, Yoplait yogurt, Wherther’s Cinnamon Flavored hard candies, Twinlabs Ripped Fuel, and Hot Pockets Snackers. If you do not want to purchase or consume any products containing carmine, you should always check the ingredients label on any food, drug, or cosmetic products that are red. The amount of products containing carmine are far too many to list. A list of more products containing carmine can be found here.
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Vegan Alternatives to Carmine
Red dyes and food colorings can easily be made from plants, especially fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, cherries, and beets. Here is an excellent guide for making your own food colorings.
In 2012 many Starbucks customers became aware of the fact that carmine was used in Starbucks drinks – Strawberry and Creme Frappuccino, which got its pink color from scale insects, was the main culprit that landed the corporate giant in hot water after a barista posted a photo of the drinks’ ingredients label and the information spread rampantly across the Internet. Starbucks was quick to defend their use of the ingredient, but soon caved after the pressure from angry customers and online petitions quickly started to build up. Since then, Starbucks has stopped using carmine as a food coloring in their beverages.
Carmine Health Risks
There have been reports of people having severe adverse reactions after ingesting foods colored with carmine. Carmine has also been identified as a cause for allergies and asthma in some individuals. Since these findings, the FDA has required foods and drugs that use carmine to add a warning label to their products.
Want to know if other common ingredients are vegan or not? Check out our Is It Vegan? category.