Natural red without the bugs? Chr Hansen develops fermentation-derived carmine

By Caroline SCOTT-THOMAS contact

- Last updated on GMT

Carmine is safe, natural and effective for producing red, orange, purple and pink shades - but companies have been under pressure to replace it
Carmine is safe, natural and effective for producing red, orange, purple and pink shades - but companies have been under pressure to replace it
Danish ingredients firm Chr Hansen claims it has produced carmine through fermentation, meaning a cheaper, vegetarian, halal and kosher version of the natural red colouring could be just a few years from commercial use.

Along with researchers from the University of Copenhagen and the Technical University of Denmark, Chr Hansen says it has managed to produce carmine through the fermentation of various production organisms, and the company is now filing patents to protect the technology.

“This is a potential game-changer for carmine production,”​ said company CEO Cees de Jong. “The new technology is expected to make production of carmine more cost-efficient and thereby further lower the barriers for conversion to natural colours.”

Currently, carmine is made by crushing cochineal insects, which are primarily sourced from a particular type of cactus plant in South America. It can take 100,000 insects to make one kilogram of carmine, and its manual harvest adds significant cost to the end product.

Although carmine is safe, natural and effective for producing red, orange, purple and pink shades, companies have been under pressure to remove the colouring from their products to appeal to vegetarians, halal and kosher consumers, as well as to those who dislike the idea of a food colour derived from insects.

“For consumers who prefer a vegetarian and natural colorant the fermented carmine will be an obvious choice,”​ said Chr Hansen department manager for new technology, Finn Okkels. He told FoodNavigator that fermented carmine would be more sustainable and carbon-neutral than production methods used for synthetic pigments.

“We expect the cochineal derived carmine and the fermented carmine product will co-exist on the market,”​ he said – as vanillin from the vanilla orchid co-exists with vanillin from other sources.

The company said it would be several years before the colouring is approved for use and available on the market.

De Jong added: “When the technology is ready for use, Chr. Hansen has an excellent position to exploit it. Fermentation is our core competence and we are market leading within natural colours.”

Chr Hansen said it started its project to develop fermentation-derived carmine back in 2011. Carmine is one of the most stable natural colours and is widely used in confectionery, ice cream, beverages, meat, and fruit preparations for dairy products. It is labelled as E120 in Europe.

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