Carmine

Meet the beetles. They may be in your red food coloring.
Last Updated: October 11, 2017

Carmine is a bright red dye commonly used to color food, cosmetics and textiles. Carmine is made from beetles, and is therefore not vegan. The pigment is produced by drying, crushing, and then boiling the bodies of cochineal beetles to extract carminic acid.

Watch out for carmine in:

On labels, carmine may also be listed as cochineal extract, crimson lake, natural red 4 and E120. Contrary to what some websites say, Red #40 (which is used in many processed sweets including Red Vines) is not derived from carmine. It’s actually produced from coal.

Note that the best red dyes are derived from real foods like strawberries and beets. Food companies use carmine and Red #40 to reduce costs.