INS No. 120
Cochineal extract
Cochineal carmine
CI Natural Red 4
E 120; Cochineal, Carminic acid, Carmines

Physical Description

Carmine occurs as bright red, friable pieces or as a dark red powder. Carmines are the aluminum or the calcium-aluminum lake, or an aluminum hydroxide substrate, of the coloring principles obtained by an aqueous extraction of cochineal. Cochineal extract is the concentrated solution obtained after removing the alcohol from an aqueous-alcoholic extract of cochineal (Dactylopius coccus costa (Coccus acti L.)); the coloring principle is chiefly carminic acid.

Common Uses

Carmine and cochineal can be used for coloring food, drugs and cosmetics intended for the eye area, including meat products, seafood, confectionery, alcoholic beverages and soft drinks, cider, vinegar, yogurt, baked goods, jams, jellies, dairy products, snack foods, convenient foods, fruit preparations, and seasonings.




Commission Regulation (EU) 2018/1472

Codex GSFA Provisions

Carmines (INS No. 120) are added to foods and beverages at concentrations up to a maximum permitted level (MPL) as adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission. There are more than 70 food categories for which MPLs for carmines have been adopted in the General Standard of Food Additives (GSFA).

Regulatory Approvals

JECFA: ADI of 0-5 mg/kg bw (55th report, 2000). No ADI allocated for Cochineal Extract or Carmine Lake (21st report, 1977). The Committee concluded that cochineal extract, carmines, and possibly carminic acid in foods and beverages may provoke allergic reactions in some individuals (55th report, 2000).

USA: Carmine and cochineal extract are exempt from certification and may be safely used for coloring foods generally (21 CFR 73.100), ingested and externally applied drugs (21 CFR 73.1100), and carmine may be safely used in cosmetics generally, including cosmetics intended for use in the eye area (21 CFR 73.2087) in amounts consistent with GMP.

EU: 0-5 mg/kg (EFSA, 2015). EFSA has authorized Cochineal, Carminic acid, Carmines for use at concentrations up to permitted MPLs in specific food and beverage products.

Safety Reviews

Evaluation of Certain Food Additives and Contaminants (55th report of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives) WHO Technical Report Series, No. 901, 2001. Available online

Summary of Toxicological Data of Certain Food Additives (21st Report of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives) WHO Food Additives series, No. 12, 1977. Available online

EFSA ANS Panel (EFSA Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources added to Food), 2015. Scientific Opinion on the re-evaluation of cochineal, carminic acid, carmines (E 120) as a food additive. EFSA Journal 2015;13(11):4288, 66 pp. Available online