Israeli tomato based dye replaces crushed bugs in starbucks’ pink drinks

Tomat-O-Red colors foods that appetizing pink color and even offers health benefits. Like eating Shakshouka every day?

Starbucks made waves with their eco-move away from artificial red coloring to a natural, sustainable dye. It was right there on their labels: carmine. Then a tip from an anonymous Starbucks employee to a vegan website alerted the public to the real nature of  Strawberry Frappuccinos. Carmine is made from dried, powdered female cochineal beetles. Originating in Latin America, it’s been used to dye fabrics and foods red for centuries.

The coffee-shop chain didn’t count on the public’s reaction. Vegans and vegetarians were understandably upset, and people who don’t care to ingest insects were disgusted. An online petition with over 6,500 signatures asked Starbucks to stop using carmine. The furor is only now petering out, with Starbuck’s announcement that from now on, their products will be colored with vegetarian (and kosher) Tomat-O-Red.

The Israel-based Lycored company produces the dye. It’s made from lycopene, the natural pigment that gives tomatoes their red color. Our post on Lycored’s tomato-based sunscreen mentioned the development of this new natural dye.  Lycored claims that Tomat-O-Red, being rich in antioxidant lycopene, boosts the body’s ability to fight off free radicals, those scavenging chemicals that damage cells and pave the way to disease.

According to the Lycored site, heating lycopene-rich foods such as tomatoes is better for you than eating it raw.

To get more benefits from tomatoes, cook them first because the heat liberates three times more lycopene from the plant’s tissue. Since lycopene is a lipid, for better absorption, it should be consumed with oil.

Pasta with tomato sauce and a drizzle of olive oil? Sounds good to me. Maybe with a heart-healthy banana for dessert? Even better.

It’s always good news when mass-produced food goes just that bit healthier. And more good news: Lycored’s tomatoes, while conventionally grown, are non-GMO. But it’s doubtful that Tomat-O-Red’s healthy properties can counterbalance the caffeine and sugar in Starbucks products.

By Miriam Kresh

Miriam KreshMiriam Kresh is an American ex-pat living in Israel. Her love of Middle Eastern food evolved from close friendships with enthusiastic Moroccan, Tunisian and Turkish home cooks.

She owns too many cookbooks and is always planning the next meal.

Miriam can be reached at


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