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Jun 1, 2007 10:12 PM

Campari changes carmine to artificial color?

I recently bought a new bottle of Campari and noticed an interesting change on the label. The old bottle (but not that old, no more than a year) says "Contains natural carmine." The new bottle says "Artificially colored." I did not, alas, notice the difference in time to do a taste comparison, though given Campari's assertive flavor, I doubt I would have noticed anything (if that was indeed the only change).

Carmine is made from cochineal beetles, which some folks find gross and others want to avoid ingesting for philosophical/religious reasons. There have also been a small number of cases of allergic reactions to carmine ranging from asthma to anaphalactic shock. So after reading this, I think, okay, maybe there was good reason for them changing to a 'safer' (we hope!) artificial colorant, though my knee-jerk preference is to stick with the natural coloring.

But then I found sites that claim foods and cosmetics using carmine are allowed to call it just "artificial color," obscuring the issue for those who want to avoid it. So now I'm wondering, did Campari really change the formula or just the packaging?!

And why don't they make a version without that lurid red color anyhow? I wonder what color it would be without it. Clear? Certainly not dark like Angostura bitters. Anyhow, I know, they've built their whole advertising around that color. Though this could be a whole new line -- Campari Clear. Wouldn't you buy it? I would.

Speaking of the packaging, the new bottle, annoyingly, is taller than the old bottle. Not by a lot, just a little, just enough to no longer fit on the shelf where I store it. So I poured the contents of the new bottle into the old one, and that's why I can't do a taste test.

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  1. NOOOOOO! I'm so sad! Campari is one of my favorites and I LOVED the fact that it was colored with carmine, which is such a beautiful red. I bought Campari in Belize and the bottle said it was made in Jamaica. I also thought the color was slightly off--not as intense of a red. Tasted more or less how I remembered though.

    2 Replies
    1. re: TimeMachine

      I have several bottles of Campari, and didn't read the labels when buying. It turns out that I have both varieties, with natural carmine, and the artificially colored.

      I just held both varieties up to a bright light to see if I could detect a difference visually. There is a difference in the color, at least to my observation.

      The natural carmine is a darker, more intense red than the artificially colored. The artificially colored variety has a slightly orangish tint, to me.

      This is disappointing. I guess the most important issue is, do they taste the same. The bottle I have opened contains natural carmine. I'll have to open an artificially colored one to see if there's a difference in taste.

      I hope they taste the same. I've been a Campari fan for 25+ years.

      1. re: redchile

        I am a daily negroni enjoyer and I have done side by side taste tests with the original and the artificial version. There is no question that the artificially colored campari taste different, and not in a good way. It is less bitter and has a cough syrup taste to it.

        I have tried to email Campari but have gotten no response and I am now working my Italian connections to find out if the original formula is still available.

        If you have any original formula bottles, hold on to them as they may be worth money to those of us who regularly buy Campari by the case.

    2. I can think of a few reasons why Campari might abandon the beetle-based dye:

      * It covets the business of the vegan drinking community, which only has a few verbotens on its list, including Campari and Advocaat.

      * It is tired of lawsuits from those drinkers that have a life-threatening allergic reaction to cochineal carmine.

      * It fears a negative marketing campaign from competitors that could characterize Campari as "bug juice".

      But I don't really know if the labeling change really means they've abandoned that coloring. I have not detected any change, and the bottle I got a few weeks back says, "Contains natural carmine."

      5 Replies
      1. re: MC Slim JB

        Yeah, I would feel real bad about abandoning all those 'vegans'...Ha! There is also a possible Kosher option for them if they are not using Carmine also...

        Does anyone know what the original coloring was in Campari? I would venture to say that Carmine was not part of the original formula, but added in later because of production volume exceeding what they could produce with the original colorant. I assume the color came from some root or fruit/veggie?

        1. re: Papa Kip Chee

          Pomegranate seed pulp seems a likely candidate to me.

          Incidentally, I forgot a lot of other vegan-unfriendly cordials, like anything with cream: Bailey's, Starbucks, Amarula, Vermeer, etc.

          1. re: Papa Kip Chee

            Regarding kosher, here's an interesting statement I ran across: "Warner-Jenkinson cochineal and carmine products have been certified as kosher colors by Rabbi David I. Sheinkopf, Kashruth consultant from Syracuse, NY."

            1. re: Papa Kip Chee

              Carmine has been used as a colorant for millennia in Europe (many words for red are derived from little bugs: vermilculus, vermillion, vermeil, bermejo, carmesí, etc.). I wouldn't assume that it wasn't in the original forumula.

          2. This is interesting, I looked at my Campari. I have a 1L bottle I bought in NY, there are no ingredients listed anywhere, but it does say "artificially colored". I also have two 750ml bottles I bought at a duty-free shop in Quebec and they list carmine as an ingredient, in a full ingredient list. Furthermore, the bottle from NY lists alcohol/volume at 24% while the Quebec bottles say 25%. Color may be a shade more orange in the NY bottle (less deep red) but the bottles are different sizes so it's hard to tell. The taste is a bit deeper and fresher in the Quebec bottle, but I just opened it while the NY bottle has been open for at least two months, stored at room temp. Date codes: NY: LN/RM06 10:52 Quebec: LS/QG11

            I think I will have to stock up in Canada from now on...

            1 Reply
            1. re: kenito799

              Interesting... the stuff that I buy here (in Spain) doesn't have an ingredient list, either--I never thought about it, but I don't think liquor here is required to list ingredients. It's 25% alcohol.

            2. I went to 5 different liquor stores today before I found Campari with “natural carmine”. But the good news is that I WAS able to find it. So apparently it’s still available if you look in the right places. I ended finding it at an Italian restaurant and wine shop, so that might be good lead for others here to check out. Try a place that specializes in Italian imports. The label says that it’s imported by Skyy Spirits, San Francisco, Ca.

              For those of you in Minneapolis - Saint Paul, the place I finally found it was Boun Giorno in Lilydale.


              Uncle Ira

              1. I just did a taste test with the end of my old bottle (I don't drink Campari very often) and a newly purchased bottle. My opinion: The new stuff tastes icky! It's thinner, less complex, and both sweeter and more bitter than the old stuff.

                I was so unhappy that I came to chowhound to post a complaint, but then I found this thread.

                Thank you, Uncle Ira, for posting the tip about the real, bug-laden Campari at Buon Giorno. I plan to trek out there in the near future to see if they have any left.