Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Whats in a red?

When color makes the news we get excited and last week we heard about the battle over Starbucks choice of food colorant.  But what is all the fuss? Isn't red just red?
The Starbucks smoothie in question
As reported by NPR "Vegetarians and others who'd rather not eat insects protested when they found out the company colors certain food and drinks with cochineal, the red "juice" a tiny white bug called Dactylopius coccus exudes when crushed." Due to the protests of this community,  Starbucks says the drink will be bug-free. 

Cliff Burrows, President of Starbucks, wrote on Starbucks blog.
"Our expectation is to be fully transitioned to lycopene, a natural, tomato-based extract, which is used in our Strawberries & Crème Frappuccino® blended beverage and our Strawberry Banana Smoothie. This transition will occur over time as we finalize revisions and manage production. Our intention is to be fully transitioned from existing product inventories to revised food and beverage offerings near the end of June across the U.S."

Lycopene: Starbucks new red via Wikimedia
But what is cochineal exactly? After all, even though some find the idea of eatting bugs unappetizing, cochineal extract is FDA approved and considered an all natural alternative to petroleum based Allura or #40 red food dye. 

The western aversion to eating bugs is far more recent historically that the use of these insects as a dye product. Cochineal live on cactus primarily in Central America. They have been used as clothing dyes for century's. Below we see an illustration of an "Indian Collecting Cochineal with a Deer Tail" by José Antonio de Alzate y Ramírez (1777).

Cochineal Farming Illustration via Wikimedia

 Wikipedia describes a bit of the history here:
"Cochineal dye was used by the Aztec and Maya peoples of Central and North America. Eleven cities conquered by Moctezuma in the 15th century paid a yearly tribute of 2000 decorated cotton blankets and 40 bags of cochineal dye each.  During the colonial period the production of cochineal (grana fina) grew rapidly. Produced almost exclusively in Oaxaca by indigenous producers, cochineal became Mexico's second most valued export after silver."
Hand grinding Cochinal dye powder via The Dirt Doctor

What do you think? Should these bright red bugs be left to dying clothing and cosmetics or are you willing to eat a bug or two for a richly red visual experience?


- Emily Eifler, Writer, Colour Studio
- Jill Pilaroscia, Principal, Colour Studio

1 comment:

  1. I think we'd be really grossed out if we know all that we we ingesting. From pink slime hamburgers to rat droppings in peanut butter, what's a little smashed up bug? Gross though :-(

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