New Red Food Dye Can Replace Carmine To Make Vegan Candy

Demand has been growing for vegetarian and vegan alternatives to carmine - which is made from crushed-up insects
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Red candy

Carmine is used in candy and other foods (Photo: Chr. Hansen Natural Colors A/S)

Food scientists have created a new sweet potato which can be used to dye food red as a vegan alternative to carmine.

The Hansen sweet potato™ has been developed using traditional methods as a plant-based replacement for the red pigment created from mushed up insects

Vegan colors

"For the first time, we’ve created a whole new variety of vegetable to create the natural color our customers are asking for," said Jakob Dalmose Rasmussen, VP of Commercial Development at Denmark-based bioscience company Chr. Hansen.

The Hansen sweet potato™ has been more than 10 years in development, when a promising pigment was discovered in the tuber of a sweet potato. Years of non-GMO selective breeding followed to increase the pigment content, eventually yielding the company's bright red alternative to carmine.

Red sweet potato

The Hansen sweet potato™(Photo: Chr. Hansen Natural Colors A/S)

Are there bugs in your food?

Carmine is a bright red coloring used in foods, drink and cosmetics. It's produced by drying harvested cochineal females, crushing their bodies to make a powder and boiling it in an ammonia or sodium carbonate solution. It takes tens of thousands of insects to make one pound of dye.

Though insect-friendly alternatives to carmine – or E120 as it is sometimes shown on food labels in the EU – already exist, they're not without their problems, including being restricted to short shelf life foods and leaving an after taste.

Vegan demand

"Strawberry red is a popular shade for food products – from cakes to confectionary to milkshakes," said Dalmose Rasmussen. " But until now it has been nearly impossible to make a fire-engine red color with no risk of off-taste without using carmine.

"And as consumers move towards vegetarian and vegan food choices, the need for a carmine alternative has become more pressing. Our new FruitMax® red juice concentrates are 100 percent plant based and provide a new solution to our customers looking to respond to this consumer trend."