The Danish company Chr Hansen, through a partnership with the University of Copenhagen, created a process able to produce carmine dye by fermentation. Thanks to this discovery, the company is disrupting a millennial production method and stepping up to the plate, becoming a real game changer.
With its particular deep-red color, carmine is one of the most popular dyes in the industry. Already used by the Aztec and Inca empires back in the XIIIth century, carmine was first imported to Europe by conquistadors. Initially used as a textile dye, carmine is now widely present in the agribusiness.
Today chemical synthesis allows the conception of dyes similar to carmine pigment, but molecules produced by this chemical method are mainly used by the non-food industry (textile for example). The Food industry only focuses on natural carmine. This is why the process to create the pigment hasn’t changed since Aztec & Inca’s time. The production method relies on cultivating cochineal that can be found on cactus plants. To give you an idea, to make one kilo of carmine, you need 100,000 cochineals, all collected by hand of course…
This ancestral production method, today however, is facing all sorts of issues. Indeed, the price of the raw material, i.e cochineal, is really fluky from one year to the next. Varying from $15 to $120/kg, the price instability confronts the industry to a real market challenge. Not to mention, the controversies regarding transparency in the agribusiness… Danone and Starbucks were already attacked for the presence of insects in their food.
Regarding these accusations, the industry had to react. In the small country of Denmark, where a lot of industrial biotechs are born, one of the biggest ingredient providers worldwide, Chr Hansen, is on its way to bring the miracle solution. In order to change the carmine production method, Chr Hansen established partnerships with the University of Copenhagen. As a result, researchers uncovered the complicated processes involved in the natural production of carmine and produced the pigment thanks to a modern microorganism fermentation process. The company is now patenting the technology to protect it.
With this technology, Chr Hansen could potentially take on most of the problems linked to carmine production, such as costs and consumer trends. It is also now establishing itself as a key game changer in the agribusiness world. Even if it is impossible to judge Chr Hansen’s technology because of the lack of data, it seems only fair to say that the worldwide leader in natural colors, who also happens to be an expert in the fermentation process (because of its activity in providing cultures) will succeed!