What gives food the color red? Bugs! “Carmine” is what it’s called.

starbucks-use-cochineal-in-strawberry-drinks-2Carmine can also be identified on food labels as Crimson Lake, Cochineal,  Natural Red 4, C.I. 75470 or E120. We mention that because we’re guessing you’ll  want to check for it in the future after reading this.

Oh, and that thing we said about how we’d stop mentioning that you eat bugs?  We totally lied. If you’re eating something red right now, or if you have  recently, have a gander at the label.

There  is a strong chance it was made with carmine. And what’s that? Are you sitting  down?

Carmine is made, literally, from ground-up cochineal insects, which is just a  more harrowing way of saying mashed red beetles. Because you’re dying to know  more, the insects are killed by exposure to heat or immersion in hot water and  then dried. Because the abdomen region that houses the fertilized eggs contains  the most carmine, it is separated from the rest of the body, ground into a  powder and cooked at high temperatures to extract the maximum amount of  color.

Then, it’s added to that yogurt you ate this morning while lording your  health consciousness over the guy in the cubicle next to you who had an Egg  McMuffin.


Group wants Dannon [and others] to get it out of their yogurts

Updated: Friday, 26 Jul 2013, 7:53 PM EDT Published : Friday, 26 Jul 2013, 7:53 PM EDT

  • Elizabeth Cohen, CNN

ATLANTA, GA (CNN) – If you’ve never stopped to think about how the food you eat gets its color, maybe it’s time you did.

A non-profit health and consumer watchdog is raising concerns about how some  yogurt companies color their products.

What gives this strawberry yogurt its pink color? If you thought berries, would you ever be wrong. Its bugs!

These  cochineal insects are valued for their vibrant red color when crushed, as demonstrated by the  North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. In just seconds it turns into a brilliant, scarlet  red dye.

Last year, Starbucks said it would stop using the bug dye in products like its strawberries and cream frappuccino, and now the  Center for Science in the Public Interest says Dannon should get it out of its yogurts.

“A company like  Dannon should be coloring its strawberry yogurt with strawberries and not some insect extract,” said Michael Jacobson, CSPI Executive Director.

They say Dannon is being deceptive. The average yogurt eater sees the redness and thinks strawberries. There’s a picture of a strawberry on the label, not an insect.

The group says dozens of consumers have complained that the bug coloring, called carmine,  has caused vomiting, hives, and swelling.

In a statement, Dannon said, “Carmine is a safe,  FDA approved, vivid red color that many food makers use, including Dannon in some of our products, because it delivers the best color throughout shelf life of the product.”

Dannon says if consumers want to avoid it, they can just look at the label. It’ll say “Carmine.” It won’t say “bugs.”



March 1, 2002 — Vegparadise News Bureau

Tropicana Is Bugging Your Juice

Like many people who read labels on products, Shari Feinberg was shocked to find that Tropicana was “bugging” her grapefruit juice.

When Shari purchased her Tropicana Season’s Best Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice last month, she learned the ingredient that gave the beverage its bright red color was carmine.  Carmine is derived from the cochineal beetle, a scale insect that is crushed to create this red dye.

Shari’s shock led to a phone call to the company. She told the representative, “I don’t want to drink crushed insect bodies in my juice. I asked why they couldn’t use something like beet juice instead. The nice lady in customer relations took down my comments and said she’d pass them along.”

When VIP called Tropicana ( a division of Pepsico) to ask for a list of juices that contained cochineal or carmine, the representative was surprised to learn that both were derived from insects. She said the company had no list of juices that contained these colors. She advised us to read the labels and that all ingredients were clearly indicated on those labels.

A spot check at a local supermarket revealed another juice that had been “bugged.” Tropicana Pure Premium Orange Strawberry is “made from fresh oranges, not concentrate, 100% pure squeezed orange juice with calcium and strawberry and natural flavors and ingredients.”

The ingredients listed were “100% pure squeezed pasteurized juice, Fruit Cal (calcium hydroxide, malic acid, and citric acid), banana puree, white grape juice concentrate, strawberry juice concentrate, natural flavors, and cochineal extract (color).

The customer relations representative assured VIP that carmine and cochineal are natural colors, and correctly so. She read us this definition of a natural color: “a natural color is derived from animal, plant or mineral sources.”

Cochineal and its derivative carminic acid have a long history going back to pre-Hispanic Mexico when the Mixtec Indians used the dried and ground insects to create a color-fast red dye for fabrics.

In the 1900’s cochineal-derived dyes began to appear as a food color in pork sausage, pies, dried fish and shrimp, candies, pills, jams, lipstick, rouge, and bright red maraschino cherries.

When red aniline dyes, a coal tar product, appeared in the1870’s they began to replace cochineal in the production of fabrics. They did not replace the cochineal in food until later in the 1900’s.

Because red aniline dyes 2 and 40 are both believed to be carcinogenic, cochineal is now being reconsidered as a safe food dye.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest in its Chemical Cuisine: CSPI’s Guide to Food Additives describes carmine/cochineal extract as follows:

“Cochineal extract is a coloring extracted from the eggs of the cochineal beetle, which lives on cactus plants in Peru, the Canary Islands, and elsewhere. Carmine is a more purified coloring made from cochineal.

“These colorings, which are extremely stable, are used in some red, pink, or purple candy, yogurt, Compari, ice cream, beverages, and many other foods, as well as drugs and cosmetics.

“These colorings have caused allergic reactions that range from hives to life-threatening anaphylactic shock. It is not known how many people suffer from this allergy.

“The Food and Drug Administration should ban cochineal extract and carmine or, at the very least, require that they be identified clearly on food labels so that people could avoid them. Natural or synthetic substitutes are available.

“A label statement should also disclose that, Carmine is extracted from dried insects so that vegetarians and others who want to avoid animal products could do so.”


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