Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Thursday, January 15, 2009

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.

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At 15:02, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, people keep finding all these great photos of cochineal! Are these yours?

Thanks :)

At 17:44, Blogger Kathie Brown said...

My sister called and warned me about this. I shall have to go and read! Is this coloring found in the red candy, Boston Baked Beans and French Burnt Peanuts? I happen to like them both but it's been a long time since I've eaten them.

At 20:56, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Bug Girl- My pleasure. Yes, the photos are mine. They were taken on the walk that was the subject of the linked blog post.

Kathie- Interesting question. I hope that knowing that cochineal is an insect product isn't putting you off of it. I'd rather eat it than most of the synthetic coal tar dyes that are used as food colorants. The only real problem with it involves those who are allergic.

At 20:57, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Kathie- When I said interesting question, I meant to add that I don't know if cochineal is the read dye in those candies.

At 21:22, Blogger TR Ryan said...

Tain't no way I'm giving up my Campari! Heck, I am not even going to "scale" back. The moral of this story: swallow fast and just don't let it "bug" you.

At 00:09, Blogger SAPhotographs (Joan) said...

Some people are always getting a bug up their sleeve about something!! (excuse pun!!)

Great remark TR!! LOL!!


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