Finally? A Red Food Coloring NOT from Bugs or Petrochemicals

Tomat-O-Red color variations by LycoRed

Red is a very appetizing color. We eat with our eyes, and when we see a rich red strawberry, a Red Delicious apple, or other foods draped in red, we want want them! That’s why manufacturers have been adding red coloring to foods for years. The three most popular coloring solutions each come with a set of problems:

  1. Beet juice – all natural, but the red is not vibrant, and is not shelf stable.
  2. Red #40 – artificial dye, a petroleum industry derivative, very bright, but implicated in cancer and hyperactivity in kids
  3. Carmine -Also known as cochineal, this dye has been used for centuries, is very bright and is shelf stable. Oh, it’s also made from bugs.

Enter a new solution from a company called LycoRed, which claims to have solved the shortcoming of the above colorings.

According to LycoRed, they use a patented process to produce an antioxidant-rich lycopene compound from California-grown, non-GMO tomatoes. The company claims that production levels have more than doubled in recent months to meet the growing demand. The annual market for lycopenes is $60-80 million dollars a year, according to the company.

Lycored has been in business for about 15 years creating red and orange hues from tomatoes and carrots. We recently interviewed a marketing representative to learn more this coloring.

[Fooducate] How strong is the color compared to carmine?

[LycoRed] Tomat-O-Red’s color is a vibrant red, with the option of producing a wide range of hues. It is often used as a substitute for carmine in various food applications and can provide the same red shades and colors as carmine.

[Fooducate] how shelf stable is it?

[LycoRed] Tomat-O-Red is stable when stored in a dry place, at 4 degrees Celsius and in the original packaging. An opened pack should be resealed, kept out of direct sunlight, stored at 4 degrees Celsius and used as soon as possible. Tomat-O-Red does need to be refrigerated before opening and being added to food and beverages. Used as directed, once formulated in the products, it does not require refrigeration, although some of the products that use Tomat-O-Red  might.  For example, it can be used in smoothies that require refrigeration, and it can be used to color cakes and confectionary products, which do not.

[Fooducate] Can Tomat-O-Red be used in all places carmine can?

[LycoRed] Tomat-O-Red is successfully used in multiple food applications and products, often as a substitute for carmine. Tomat-O-Red has been used for coloring in many commercial products, for example soft drinks, juices, alcoholic beverages, confectionery, chewing gums, sauces, cake icings, surimi for meat analogues and many more.

[Fooducate] what are the costs compared to carmine, compared to red #40?

[LycoRed] Carmine prices are continually fluctuating. In general, Tomat-O-Red is a small premium over the price of carmine.

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And of course, both are more expensive than the synthetic Red #40.

For manufacturers that use Red #40, this natural solution is not an option because it is too expensive. But for companies like Starbucks, that saw a strawberry frap fiasco a few months ago over the use of carmine as a coloring, LycoRed could be the solution. Asides from the yuck factor, tomato extract works better for vegetarians, vegans, and people who keep halal or kosher (no bugs allowed).

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  • NMPatricia

    I respect people who have dietary limitations. But for the rest, I wish they would view this a bit more realistically. Bugs? What is the difference between that and dead animals (meat?) Many of the things that we eat could be taken to an extreme. The cochineal is natural, just like meat could be natural. And given the processing, probably is as clean as it is possible. And given that it has been in makeup and foods for years, people have done just fine. Although i would rather have the cochineal to dye with! This feels so tempest in a tea pot. i agree and find fascinating most of the posts here, but think Fooducate is off base with this one.

    • Okay…

      You know I have no issue consuming a crushed beetle, and I always wonder how is it that in our minds, we are able to consume a dead cow, medium rare, with it’s blood gushing, or chicken, or fish, people always freak out when they hear bugs, to me this is more natural than Chemicals dye. There are plenty of countries, probably healtier ones that consume bugs, as protien, so I just don’t get why people are hell bent on destroying the notion of bug dye, I dont know. Not to mention the industry for conchineal dye employ a lot of women who are feeding their families, so i’m not really sure what this is going to accomplish. I still drink the passion tea from Starbucks and it had conchineal in it, and until they give me some solid facts on how this damages my body, i dont see anything but the fact that people are freaked out by bugs in america. Do freak out about eating the embryo of a chicken, or something like that.

  • yulaffin

    I agree with NMPatricia. Unless you’re a vegetarian/vegan or are allergic to cochineal, what’s the big deal?

  • George Babbitt

    And those people who are allergic to tomatoes are ?not? affected by this product???

  • http://www.canadianfoodiegirl.com Andrea T

    I agree with Patricia. The cochineal uproar also seemed strange to me because it’s not a new practice. I do sometimes forget that things that I think are common knowledge aren’t. That all said, LycoRed sounds promising.

  • RBL

    As someone who keeps kosher and is pescetarian, I couldn’t be more thrilled. Thanks for covering this, Fooducate! This could open up a ton of food for me and my friends!

  • Violet

    Aren’t there bugs in pretty much all processed foods?

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  • Jill

    I agree with a lot of these comments but I hate to break it to the vegetarians out there, but when big machines go through wheat fields do u think they let those little buggies chillin on the leaves scurry away? No! The machine mindlessly plows through the field finely chopping wheat and bugs alike so unless u ALSO eliminate all breads, cakes, muffins, and the hundreds more of wheat products from ur diet…I’m sad to tell u that u hav been consuming a substantial amount of bugs ur whole life:/

    • Anon

      But that’s relatively unavoidable (even a home garden would likely involve some amount of bug elimination or consumption). Ethically, the idea that bugs are raised and intentionally killed for something as unnecessary as food dye is a problem for vegetarians. Vegetarians, if they are choosing the diet for ethics, try to cause the least harm or suffering possible.

  • Ellen Abbott

    Really? Carmine is about as natural as it gets. It’s made from bugs. So what?What’s wrong with bugs? Many people eat bugs as a regular part of their diet. Americans are just too affluent and squeamish.

  • James Cooper

    No, there is no evidence that food colorings cause hyperactivity. The 2 papers by Jim Stevenson were debunked by the Oak Ridge study for the FDA.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      And yet, artificial colors are banned in the EU, and require warning labels in the UK. Wonder what they know that the FDA doesn’t?

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  • sue milam

    if you eat black pepper or other spices, you are eating bugs. there are so many parts per measurement? allowed. the plant lies around and dries & one could reasonably expect insects to get in them. at least they are protein. the poison in most all our food is chemicals. there is no purpose for them other than fat cats(wealthy) make a lot of money on them. for instance, i read that flouride is a substance that is scraped off smokestacks that are producing aluminum. they did not want to waste anything that could turn a profit.