Bug Girl on Bug Juice
Cochineal (Dactylopius sp.)
There has been a bit of news, and even some controversy lately about a natural colorant called cochineal. The source of cochineal is the bodies of certain species of scale insects that feed on cactus. When crushed, they release a vivid red dye. A while back, I posted about finding cochineal insects during a hike in the Santa Rosa Mountains of California.
Cochineal is used as a colorant in cosmetics (what do you think was in that Jungle Red nail polish?) and red or pink foods like yogurt, juice drinks, and (my favorite) Campari. Some folks have an allergy to cochineal, and this has prompted the FDA to modify rules about labeling foods containing cochineal. A bit of press has resulted, including a fair bit of misinformation and some excessive hand wringing (It's so wrong, we're eating BUGS!!!). Fortunately, the indefatigable Bug Girl is on the case, with an excellent post that puts things right.
UPDATE: I was just contacted with disappointing news from Campari. They have discontinued using cochineal in Campari for about 2 years now. I think that cochineal is a great natural source of red coloring. Please continue enjoying Campari knowing that it now contains synthetic red coloring obtained from coal tar rather than the natural pigment from cochineal. Carry on.