Slovenia’s company decided to diversify its ingredients offering after observing the need for a natural, more cost-effective alternative to carmine.
Carmine is made from carminic acid, produced from the ground bodies of cochineal insects (Dactylopius coccus), primarily grown on South American Opuntia cacti. It is popular with food manufacturers due to the range of hues that can be achieved, as well as its heat and acid stability.
However the industry has been grappling with a shortage as Peruvian farmers reacted to low prices several years ago by switching to other crops than cacti, such as are choosing to growth other crops than cacti, such as asparagus, bell peppers and avocado.
According to Vitiva, no let up in the high prices is likely in the next two years, as even though the industry responded to the price increases in 2010 by encouraging more production, the life cycle for growing and harvesting the insects is three years.
Vitiva’s alternative, called Bright’nRED HS, comes from a beetroot extract stabilised using a proprietary, antioxidant-based, process involving a spice mix.
The result is said to be 15 per cent cheaper than carmine at present. According to CEO Ohad Cohen, “it matches the desired carmine shades, while being of vegetal origin, 100% natural and non-allergen”.
Not from insects
While some consumers may prefer to avoid carmine due to its insect origin, Cohen also noted that it is extracted using a chemical process, which may make some raise questions about its natural status.
He also noted that the US Food and Drug Administration now required carmine to be labelled as ‘cochneal extract’ or ‘carmine color’, so that people who are allergic to it can identify its presence.
Previously these colourings fell under the “artificial color”, “artificial color added” or “color added” banners on food labels, or by an equally informative term that makes clear that a color additive has been used in the food.
Other companies have also come up with vegetable-based alternatives to carmine. DD Williamson showcased its natural hue alternatives based on purple sweet potato, paprika, red beet, and custom blends last year. Kalsec. Too, has introduced a black carrot extract.
Meanwhile, in January Chr Hansen CEO Lars Frederiksen told FoodNavigator.com that the carmine crisis is an opportunity for his company to help stabilise the supply chain. This may involve finding ways to work with farmers, but the company would not seek total vertical integration by buying up farms or plantations. It is also exploring other regions where the cactus may grow.