what is it and where is it used?

The dye E120 (cochineal red) has been present in the food industry for some time: but it is nothing but insect dust! Here’s where to find it and what it is specifically.

Do you know that we have eaten insects without knowing it? Have you ever heard of the dye E120: it is a completely natural intense red dye as it is extracted from some insects and has been used on a large scale for years in many food items on the market. Today it seems that its presence is very small, but it may only be a matter of time before it is used again on a large scale.

What is E120 dye

The dye E120, also known as cochineal carmine, is a food coloring extracted from cochineal eggs. It is mainly used to color food products red. Unlike the synthetic dyes created in a laboratory with chemicals, E120 has been used for thousands of years as a natural form of coloration in various cultures around the world.

Strawberry yogurt
Strawberry yogurt

Where is the dye E120 used

The E120 dye is mainly used in the food industry to color red products, such as candies, sweets, beverages and dairy products. It is also used to give color to sauces, jams, jellies, fruit pastes, cheeses, alcoholic beverages, beer and wine. Can be used to add visual appeal to many food items such as strawberry yogurt and popsicles. This ingredient is increasingly rare to find in food products on the market, often replaced by synthetic and laboratory-made products, however it could make a comeback after the EU’s green light for the use of cricket powder.

Not just in foods, carmine can also be used in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and in the textile industry. It is important to underline that the use of food colors must be indicated on the label of the food products and their use must respect the limits established by national and European regulations.

Criticisms of the E120 dye: ethics and health

The dye E120, also called carmine, has a controversial past as some people are allergic or intolerant to cochineal carmine, and some organizations have expressed concerns about the potential long-term health effects of using this dye. However, it has been determined by health authorities that it is safe for food use in appropriate amounts.

At the moment, several studies have been conducted on the safety and effectiveness of the use of the dye in processed foods, but none experienced any adverse effects on human health directly related to its consumption even if there are those who say that these are not authoritative studies but conducted by subjects interested in continuing to use them on the market.

Some might call it an “all natural” food coloring because it comes from a living organism instead of being synthetically producedand in the laboratory as are many other synthetic dyes today. But because of the debate over the ethics of extracting this pigment from insects — often thousands at a time — there are some who believe it shouldn’t be used in food, no matter how safe or “healthy” it may be.

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