Red red wine you make me feel so fine…You keep me rocking all of the time…
Gotta love Bob Marley!
But unfortunately this isn’t that kind of party…
This isn’t happy wine…and after this post you’ll be singing Red Red Whine…
Because you’ll be whining & crying about what I’m about to tell you today.
Ok here it goes…
There are dried, crushed bugs in our food and we have been unknowingly eating them for years…
Yes…dried, crushed bugs! Pretty sick right?
Allow me to explain…
Apparently the “color added” ingredient in some pink, purple, and red foods (ie: strawberry yogurt, sprinkles on your doughnut, skittles, etc.) is carmine, which is the dried and crushed bodies of the female cochineal insect.
Yes you read that right…i said INSECT.
Yep this weird little insect is used to provide the beautiful color in your fruit juice, ice cream, and more.
Cochineal and its close cousin carmine (also known as carminic acid) are derived from the crushed dead bodies of a particular South and Central American beetle. These very popular colorants, which today are used to impart a deep red shade to shampoos, candy, fruit juices, and more, come from the female Dactylopius coccus, a beetle that inhabits a type of cactus known as Opuntia.
The female insects are wingless and spend most of their time chilling out on various species of cactus, sucking up cactus juice. Bug harvesters (I guess that’s what they’re called) knock the insects off the cactus and drop them into boiling water, heat them up, or crush them to kill them. From the crushed insect carcasses, a red substance called carminic (or kermesic) acid is extracted.
The little things are only about 5mm long, and it takes about a million of their corpses to get a kilogram of carminic acid.
It takes about 70,000 insects to make one pound of cochineal.
According to Gary Reineccius, Ph.D., professor of food science at the University of Minnesota: “They’re harvested in Mexico, and processed in large plants.”
And the FDA seems to be covering the entire thing up because the bugs we have been eating aren’t listed on the ingredients of many foods we eat…but rather hiding under the code name “color added”. You may have also seen it labeled as E120, crimson lake, or natural red.
You should check your food at home and see if any of them have the “color added” or any of these other listings on your labels…but unless you have a strong stomach…you may not want to.
The good news is that the FDA is now requiring manufacturers to switch from the “color added” label listing to “carmine” or “cochineal extract”…which you now know stands for (dried and crushed bodies of the female cochineal insect).
Here’s a picture of the Female Cochineal Beetle
According to Michael Jacobson, Ph.D., executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, “Consumers should know what’s going into their food to promote safe, healthy diets,” and part of the effort was to require manufacturers to change their product labels.
People would be disgusted if they knew crushed bugs were in their food, Dr. Jacobson said. “We urge the FDA to at least indicate these ingredients are of insect origins, but the industry opposes that because nobody would buy the product.”
Using ingredients like carmine can be deceptive, Dr. Jacobson went on to say, because the color it gives to products makes it appear as though there is real fruit included when there often isn’t.
And I agree.
As nasty as all of this bug talk may sound, carmine is actually a great dye for lot of products, from beverages to clothing (it’s the red of Campari) to food (yes, sorry to break it to you but this is how they make bacon bits and also used in various other meats) plus it is in your lipstick and a bunch of other common products. (So even if you don’t “eat” the bugs…you are still wiping them all over your face when you use your lipstick. Beautiful right?) Over the long term, however, it is very durable, incredibly stable and surprisingly it is one of the few colorings considered safe for eye makeup.
One reason for its popularity is that, unlike many commercial synthetic red dyes, it has not been proven to be toxic or carcinogenic…
Now, don’t confuse this stuff with red dye #40…that is a different substance. Red dye #40 is derived chemically from coal tar and is not an animal or insect product.
Coming from insects carmine is not considered kosher, halal, or vegetarian…and from what I’ve seen, the stuff has come under intense scrutiny because many people have sued due to complications from allergic reactions from consuming it, so a ton of manufacturers have stopped using it completely. But many manufacturers haven’t followed suit just yet so be extra careful.
60 minutes even ran a story a few years ago about a child that almost died because of anaphylactic shock due to a severe allergic reaction to carmine.
But it easy to be a sensationalist and point the finger at this dye and label it a dangerous, disgusting insect poison…but to be quite honest, the stuff has been used for over 500 years and it has a pretty clean resume so far. Sometimes it is so easy to get so caught up in media hype, and start believing this is a new “dangerous” additive used by the evil food empire in an effort to make cheaper food and poison all of us…but I don’t think that is the case.
Here is a little history lesson for you:
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 insects and dissolve the females’ waxy coating, and then dry them in the sun. The dessicated insects would then be ground to a fine powder to be used for various products.
In the 1500′s the Spaniards caught onto the idea and immediately saw 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 World. Europeans immediately loved the beautiful, bright scarlet color both for its vibrant hue and for its extraordinary colorfast properties, ensuring that boatloads of cochineal insects would make the trans-Atlantic trek for years to come.
And…the rest is history!
Fast forward 500 years to the present day…and cochineal has been replaced as a dye for cloth by a number of synthetic pigments that work much better, but is still widely used as a coloring agent for a number of foods, beverages, and cosmetics (because many of the synthetic dyes proved dangerous to humans when taken internally or allowed to leach into the body through the skin).
Eating bugs may or may not be for you…but chances are you have been eating and/or wearing them as clothes for years.
Like I always say, it is SO IMPORTANT to read ALL labels VERY carefully and always scrutinize anything that looks fishy. If a word is too hard to spell or pronounce, or if a product is hiding behind “proprietary blend” or “color added” for that matter…perhaps it is in your best interest to avoid that particular food product.
After all, if you read a label and saw carmine or cochineal would you know that was an insect? Maybe not…but I sure hope a red flag would go off somewhere…
But I guess you can consider yourself lucky since you read this post here today…you’ll know exactly what carmine and cochineal mean from now on
Here are a few other commonly used food ingredients that may be “disturbing to some viewers”:
-Castoreum: It’s a secretion from the anal glands of beavers, used mostly in perfumes and sometimes to enhance raspberry flavor in candies and fillings.
-Rennet: An enzyme taken from veal calves at the time of slaughter is added to milk to make cheese. A non-animal version is microbial enzyme. It sounds better when it’s listed as “vegetable rennet” on cheese labels.
-Shellac: The secretions from the lac beetle found in India and Thailand are used to give confections such as Skittles and candy sprinkles a shiny coating. This is the same shellac that’s used to finish wood.
Take home message: When it comes to food…”CHOOSE WISELY”!