The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

Alternatives to Insect-Derived Food Colors

Posted on January 02, 2013 by The VRG Blog Editor

Tomat-O-Red® (Lycopene) and Ultra Stable Red™ (Anthocyanin): Plant-Derived Natural Red Color Alternatives to Carmine

by Jeanne Yacoubou, MS
VRG Research Director


Consumer demand for natural, non-insect-derived red food and beverage color has grown rapidly in recent months. As observed in April 2012 in the case of Starbucks, (, people are becoming more vocal. Vegetarians and vegans join people with carmine allergies, people following kosher dietary restrictions, and people just disgusted by the thought of an insect ingredient in their food and beverages in requesting that companies change their red coloring source. Many companies are responding to the request by reformulating ingredient profiles using vegetable-based red coloring agents instead of carmine (also known as cochineal). Here are two vegan and natural carmine alternatives that are currently commercially available.


Starbucks announced in April 2012 that it will use lycopene as a carmine alternative in its red and pink foods and drinks.

According to a May 2012 article in FoodNavigator-USA, LycoRed, maker of Tomat-O-Red®, a lycopene red coloring agent, reports “…a ten-fold increase in inquiries in a two-month period” by food, beverage, and cosmetic companies, both large and small, looking to replace carmine with Tomat-O-Red®. As a result, LycoRed has doubled production levels to keep up with the demand for a vegan, halal- and kosher-certified natural red food and beverage coloring.

LycoRed, a global corporation headquartered in Israel, began production of Tomat-O-Red® from tomatoes several years ago. According to the company, “It is vegan, kosher and halal. It is also a highly stable red food coloring that is quickly replacing synthetics and other red colorings around the globe.” In Tomat-O-Red®, lycopene is the carotenoid responsible for the red color. Carotenoids are a large class of compounds that have antioxidant properties (i.e., they terminate or inhibit chemical reactions in the body that may result in cell damage or death).

LycoRed told us by email in July 2012 that Tomat-O-Red® is coated with a system of emulsifiers that “are derived from sugar, palm oil, and sunflower oil.” The emulsifiers induce color stability of Tomat-O-Red® through different temperature, pH, light or various processing conditions. It is also stable in the presence of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) unlike anthocyanins (see below). Ready-to-use formulations of Tomat-O-Red® produce shades from cherry to strawberry red. Tomat-O-Red® oleoresin (an oil-based extract) may produce yellow to orange shades. It may be used in soft drinks, juices, yogurt, smoothies, ice cream, confectionery, chewing gums, sauces, cake icings, and meat analogs. Tomat-O-Red® is listed on ingredient labels as “tomato concentrate” or “tomato lycopene color.”

The VRG asked LycoRed how well their product compares with carmine in different food and beverage applications. They responded:
Lycopene becomes orange in high content of fat and is sensitive to oxygen, therefore we developed unique formulations to resolve these issues. Our formulations can replace carmine in viscous food products even with high fat levels (up to 18%). Tomat-O-Red® is more stable for long exposure to heat than carmine and is not sensitive to low pH [as carmine is].

On the company’s The Red Blog, LycoRed posted an entry specifically about how Tomat-O-Red® is a carmine alternative:—carmine-alternative.aspx
A May 2012 LycoRed press release is also informative: LycoRed told us that their product is “price competitive” with carmine although they pointed out that the price of carmine fluctuates according to supply.

Price and Usage Comparison with Carmine

To find out more specific details on price and usage, we looked to other companies for answers. A senior employee of Food Ingredient Solutions told The VRG in July 2012 that for “…the standard intermediate grade > 50% [carmine]…the price is around $80-90/kg. It was a bit lower several years ago, then spiked up to several times this for a couple of years.”

When asked how much carmine versus vegetable pigment would be needed to produce a pink color in strawberry yogurt, the Food Ingredient Solutions employee calculated that approximately ten times more vegetable pigment than carmine would be used “…to obtain the same depth of shade, though the color might not be as bright i.e. have as high an L* value.” (As an example, for a 6 oz. container of strawberry yogurt, 0.2 oz. of carmine would be needed as compared to 2 oz. of vegetable pigment based on his projection of a 0.03% (w/v) solution of carminic acid or a 0.3% (w/v) solution of the vegetable pigment needed to give a pink hue.)

Food Ingredient Solutions also told us about how they formulate their vegetable-based colors and offered a general price comparison to carmine:

We basically encapsulate vegetable dyes (beet juice or red radish juice) in a rice protein matrix and micronize it. This allows us to make a suitable replacement for carmine in tablet coatings, panned candies, seasoning and other powder blends, frostings, cosmetics, compound coatings (aka white chocolate) and certain other applications where lakes would be used, though not beverages which sometimes uses the lake version of carmine though we have other alternatives for this. The cost in use of the pigments is several times that of carmine, and the stability is good but not the same.

Lastly, we received Food Ingredient Solutions’ comments on carmine as a food and beverage colorant: “Carmine has a number of issues from an allergen, kosher and origin perspective. However, it is a very stable color which has been used in foods and textiles for several thousand years and it remains a good option for replacing synthetic azo dyes (cf. Southampton study) in certain applications where nothing else works and a color is preferred.”

Ultra Stable Red™
Chr. Hansen a global company headquartered in Denmark introduced Ultra Stable RedTM in late August 2012: and

Made only from plant materials, Ultra Stable Red™ compounds “…are based on new…anthocyanin blends combining stabilizing technology. The solutions are ideal for coloring…carbonated soft drinks, juice-based drinks, sports and energy drinks, and vitamin waters,” according to the company press release introducing this range of natural, plant-based color ingredients. Ultra Stable Red™ is said to be 30-40% more stable (i.e., less likely to fade or change color), compared to other anthocyanin colors. Moreover, the greater color stability of Ultra Stable Red™ eliminates the need for expensive UV filters in beverage bottles to prevent or deter fading of natural red colors.

Chr. Hansen also reports that they “…have secured the supply of the new Ultra Stable Red™ colors from day one. Because we control the entire value chain from raw materials to customer delivery we can scale supply up and down according to customer demand.” Common sources of anthocyanins include several types of berries, red grapes, black carrot, and purple corn. No further information was available from Chr. Hansen about the specific fruits and/or vegetables present in Ultra Stable Red™.

The VRG spoke with a Chr. Hansen natural colors technical division employee located in Wisconsin in October 2012. She emphasized that because Ultra Stable Red™ is a new product developed in another country, she had limited knowledge about it. She stated that the coloring agent is “application…and…low pH dependent.” Thus far, she knew only of it being tested in beverages but predicted that it might work in yogurt. She thought that Ultra Stable Red™ was “less expensive than carmine but higher in price than artificial [red colorants].”

A Chr. Hansen account manager in the color department in Wisconsin responded to our November 2012 email inquiry regarding how well Ultra Stable Red™ would impart a stable, red color in candy or baked goods at neutral or higher pH. She replied in this manner: “I have contacted our R&D and had them test the product. The Ultra Stable Red™ would work in low pH candy but at a neutral to basic pH it would not work.”

Readers may visit for more information on Ultra Stable Red™.

Consumers may want to ask companies using insect-based colorings in their products to try some of these alternatives.

The contents of this article, our website, and our other publications, including The Vegetarian Journal, are not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional. We often depend on product and ingredient information from company employees or company statements. Information does change and mistakes are always possible. Please use your own best judgment about whether a product is suitable for you. Further research or confirmation may be warranted.

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2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 06 01 13 06:04

    Alternatives to Insect-Derived Food Colors – The Vegetarian … | ViaViente of Zionsville, IN

  2. 03 06 13 18:20

    Tomat-O-Red | iHUEMAN

4 to “Alternatives to Insect-Derived Food Colors”

  1. cheryl says:

    How is it possible that TOMAT-O-RED is vegan when the article says it is coated with an emulsifer partially made of sugar?


  2. Joe Pester says:

    We just have to keep the pressure up as consumers to assure that these disgusting animal ingredients aren’t put in our foods.

  3. Do we know if the sugar used in TOMAT-O-RED is also vegan, or organic (vegan by default)?

  4. Lil says:

    Cheryl – If the sugar is raw or organic, then it’s vegan.

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