Carmine, or Cochineal extract, is the natural red color that comes from carminic acid (a predatory deterrent produced by the cochineal insect). This scaly insect is found primarily in Central America and Peru and feeds on cacti. Cochineal extract has been approved for use in food by the FDA, but Cochineal itself has not. Prior to January 2009 the ingredient was commonly listed only as a 'natural' ingredient, but is now required to be listed by name on the label.
This ingredient is used as a food dye because of its crimson pigment. It is found in apple sauces, baked goods, meats, drinks, and many other food products.
Though studies aren't conclusive, it is widely considered a much healthier alternative to synthetic food dyes (e.g. red 40
which is derived from petroleum and, according to The National Cancer Institute, has carcinogenic properties).
Carmine can cause life threatening allergic reactions. It has also been linked to serious intestinal infection. These reactions, though severe, are rare.
Cochineal, Crimson Lake, Natural Red #4, C.I. 75470, E120