Cochineal and carmine are natural colors extracted from the cactus-dwelling cochineal insect that is native to Latin America. Depending on the method of extraction, they can range in hue from orange to red to purple. They have excellent heat, light, and pH stability and work well in a wide range of applications.

In terms of stability and functionality, these natural colors are some of the best, but because they’re derived from an insect, carmine and cochineal are not considered vegetarian, kosher, or halal. So, for products that need natural colors that comply with these certifications, alternatives to carmine are necessary.

In this article, we’ll go through some of the best alternative options to match the different shades carmine and cochineal provide.


Annatto, and Paprika provide excellent orange to red-orange shades for many applications. Although they are naturally oil-soluble, yellow and orange emulsions like our Emulsitech® colors provide water soluble options, as well, that are great alternatives to carmine and cochineal.

The top row in the image below shows carminic acid used at two different dose levels for light to dark orange shades. The second row shows that close matches are possible with carotenoids, in this case, our Emulsitech® Paprika. While the dosage rate requirements are slightly higher for the darker orange option, it provides heat and light similar compared to  carminic acid.

Top: Carminic acid, 0.2 g / kg (left) and 1.0 g / kg (right). Bottom: Emulsitech® Paprika, 0.2 g / kg (left) and 2.0 g / kg (right).

Pink to Red


Beet is usually the first go-to alternative to carmine for pink to red shades. It has good light stability and an effective cost-in-use. It can also achieve close color matches to carmine in neutral pH applications like dairy beverages and yogurt.

So, why doesn’t everyone just use beet? Beet is notoriously susceptible to fading when exposed to heat. So, while it may work well for certain applications, it may not always survive the heating process associated with applications like strawberry dairy beverages or red velvet cakes.

The image below shows carmine on the left and two dosage levels of beet in cupcakes.  The lower dose is not a match to the carmine cupcake and shows significant fading around the edges.

From left to right: carmine, beet high dose and beet low dose.

To avoid this, you can overdose a bit to compensate for some of the fading, as seen in the cupcake with the higher dose. But, while the fading is less noticeable and the color is a closer match than the one with the lower dose of beet, doing this requires a much higher dose rate that could result in flavor interference. That is why blends are often a better choice.

Beet is also not the most acid stable red color available, so lower pH applications like beverages, fruit prep, or gummies typically show better results using anthocyanins.


Anthocyanins provide bright red to pink hues in low pH applications. They are also fairly heat and light stable, making them great alternatives to carmine in products like fruit preps, fillings, and low pH beverages.

You can see here that the anthocyanins like purple sweet potato and Amaize® provide similar hues to carmine in fruit prep applications. both before and after heat treatment, the anthocyanins maintain their bright red color.


Blends will be your best option for replacing carmine when a single natural color alone doesn’t have the best stability or provide the right shade. Beet, for example, can be blended with more heat stable colors like beta-carotene or class I caramels to be used in dairy beverages or bakery applications with better results.

The image below shows carmine in yogurt in the top center row surrounded by a variety of blends using beet, anthocyanins, and beta-carotene at varying dosage levels. By varying the amount of these pigments in the blend, close color matches are possible!

The best way to make sure you are getting the best alternative to carmine for your product is to work directly with our application scientists. By providing your base material and target color, they can try different blends that will meet the stability and color requirements of your product as closely as possible.

Want to see how they do it? Check out our color matching article for the inside scoop. Or get started with a sample.

Related posts

Peach Fuzz and Apricot Crush: Pantone’s Colours of the Year

Tranquility, connection, peace Speakers: Megan Jacobs, Global Marketing Director for Sense Colour Catalina Ospina, Technical Marketing Specialist Katie Floyd, Marketing Coordinator Lora Sparks, Digital Marketing Specialist Delve into the captivating colours

Natural Colors for Citrus Beverages – Squeeze the Rainbow!

Citrus colors: fresh and zesty Citrus flavors stand out as timeless favorites for all sorts of foods but especially for drinks. Their tangy and refreshing profile not only enraptures taste buds but also creates a synesthetic experience that engages sight,

Podcast: Amaize® Red

Amaize® RedFrom corn to color and beyond Speakers: Jason Armao, SVP Science & Innovation and Karim Ben Hassan, Senior Research Development Scientist for Sense Colour In this episode, we'll be unveiling the power of Amaize® Red, a groundbreaking natural

3 Natural Replacements for Red No. 3

California has recently passed a bill that will ban the use of Erythrosine, or FD&C Red No. 3 in foods and beverages. In this article we'll discuss why the ban matters, and review some of the best natural replacement options for Red No. 3. How the Ban

Natural Colors for Dairy-Free Cheese

Cheese substitutes, or plant-based cheese analogues, have been on the market since at least the 1970’s. But since 2018, dairy-free cheeses have risen in popularity with the increased consumer demand for plant-based foods. They are achieved by substituting

Carmine: Strengths, Limitations, & Alternatives

Viva Magenta – the 2023 Pantone® color of the year 2023 – is a vibrant and daring color that was inspired by the ancient and primordial cochineal dye (also known as carmine). But accompanying the mention of cochineal are often images of iridescent