The Carminic Acid, whose term in the IUPAC nomenclature is: 7-α-D-glucopiranosil-9,10-dihydro-3,5,6,8-tetrahydroxy-1-methyl-9,10-dioxoantracenecarboxylic acid, has formula brute or molecular: C22H20O13.
Carminic acid, from the chemical point of view, is an anthraquinone glycoside with an intense red color, which due to its qualities is used as a dye. In nature it is extracted from the female cochineal of the species Dactylopius coccus, with warm water. Subsequently it is treated with aluminum salts in order to obtain a lacquer with a brighter color. The lacquer is precipitated by adding ethanol, in this way a water-soluble powder is obtained.
Even from the eggs it is possible to obtain a colored pigment, with lighter shades.
The coloring properties of this cochineal have been known since ancient times, dating back to the pre-Columbian civilizations and, with the Spanish conquests, also became popular in Europe. Today carminic acid, subsequently treated with aluminum, allows to give rise to a bright red salt known as carmine, one of the forms used by the food industry for the dye E120.
This dye, as well as a food additive, is also used in the production of cosmetics and, to a lesser extent, in the dyeing of fabrics. Although the practice is rather expensive (to produce 1 kg of dye it takes about 155 thousand insects), the wide use of cochineal is justified above all by the stability of the color, a characteristic that makes it perfect for use in the food industry especially on large scale.
This dye obtained from cochineal is mainly used for sweets (red, pink, purple), yogurt, marzipan, ice cream, jellies, soft drinks (especially those for aperitifs that are distinguished by the orange-red color) and liqueurs, among which stands out the Alchermes, which owes its color to this insect.
Recall that the presence of this dye, derived from cochineal, in a food product is very important not only for ethical reasons, as vegetarians and vegans have the need (and the right) to know if a product contains additives of animal origin, which therefore they must exclude from their diet, but also for health reasons, as they have been reported cases of allergy to dye E120 (skin rashes, hives, nasal congestion), presumably mediated by the insect’s residual proteins.
For the dye E120 the permitted daily intake (ADI, from the English Acceptable Daily Intake) is at most 5 mg per kg of body weight: at these concentrations there are no known side effects, but to date no studies are available on the effects of long term.
Given the high costs and some ethical aspects this dye can be synthetically produced in the laboratory.
Thus a deep red molecule is obtained, very similar to that obtained from cochineal, so that in many products on the market today it is easier to find the synthetic additive and not that of animal origin; given the extreme similarity, the coloring additive (called E124) obtained in the laboratory, therefore also suitable for vegetarian and vegan regimes, is also known as “red cochineal”, a fact that can mislead the consumer.
Warning: The information given is not medical advice and may not be accurate. The contents are for illustrative purposes only and do not replace medical advice.