nteresting. Here’s an organic additive that creates deep and rich reds for your food or cosmetics. Ground up female cochineal beetles. I’ll be looking for these 5mm critters the next time I go shopping and begin reading packaging ingredients.
___Yes, the ingredient is called cochineal, carmine (carminic acid), or E120. Because beetles are insects it is not considered kosher, halal, or vegetarian. Some people can have allergic reactions to it, as was televised by “60 Minutes”. Yes, this kid almost died of anaphylactic shock. I’m always amazed at what is put into our food that we don’t know about. As usual, Canadian labeling laws do not give you any indication of its origins. While I do not have an aversion to eating bugs (they make a great supplemental protein source), I know most other people do. Cochineal can also be used as organic ant repellent.
___It is interesting that “60 Minutes” omitted to tell us of the long history of this dye and its stellar safety record. There was much sensationalism in the story, as if this was a new additive used by evil food manufacturers to poison us all. So much for unbiased reporting.
___This dye and food colouring has a colourful history, and sure is old school:
Cochineal and its close cousin carmine (also known as carminic acid) are derived from the crushed carcasses of a particular South and Central American beetle. These popular colorants, which today are used to impart a deep red shade to fruit juices, gelatins, candies, shampoos, and more, come from the female Dactylopius coccus, a beetle that inhabits a type of cactus known as Opuntia.
Dactylopius coccus was the source of a red dye used by Aztecs and Mexican Indians for centuries before the arrival of the Spaniards. Those indigenous peoples would collect cochineal insects, briefly immerse them in hot water to kill the beasties and dissolve the females’ waxy coating, and then dry them in the sun. The dessicated insects would then be ground to a fine powder.
The Spaniards immediately grasped the potential of the pigment, so these dried insects became one of the first products to be exported from the New World to the Old. Europeans took to the beautiful, bright scarlet colour immediately both for its vibrant hue and for its extraordinary colorfast properties, ensuring that boatloads of cochineal insects would make the trans-Atlantic trek.
___Of course manufacturers are not going to alert you with “beetle guts” in their ingredients list, so there are many other names for it. Is this unethical or are we just not educated enough?
Most consumers are unaware that the phrases “cochineal extract”, “carmine”, “crimson lake”, “natural red 4″, “C.I. 75470″, “E120″, or even “natural colouring” refer to a dye that is derived from an insect. One reason for its popularity is that, unlike many commercial synthetic red dyes, it is not toxic or carcinogenic…
Carmine is one of the very few pigments considered safe enough for use in eye cosmetics. A significant proportion of the insoluble carmine pigment produced is used in the cosmetics industry for hair- and skin-care products, lipsticks, face powders, rouges, and blushes. A bright red dye and the stain carmine used in microbiology is often made from the carmine extract, too. The pharmaceutical industry uses cochineal to colour pills and ointments.
___You learn something new everyday. Science is so cool. I appreciate how organic compounds can be used in our food. This proves that bugs can be safely eaten. When I see bugs being eaten in Thailand it intrigues me. It is comforting to know that we all eat bugs on a daily basis and just did not know it.
Addendum Mar 28 2012: Crushed bugs give Starbucks Frappucino its pretty pink colour: This is so funny because it is NOT news. Ditto Starbucks bugs vegan with Frappuccino dye made from ground up insects, but for those allergic to the insects, at least there are some substitutes that are being used.