Here’s Another Reason To Stop Eating Processed Foods, Especially Anything Red.

Cochineal dye has been around for centuries. Today it’s commonly used in frozen meat, fish, soft drinks, energy drinks, powdered drinks, alcoholic beverages, yogurts, ice cream, candy, syrup, fillings, chewing gum, canned fruits like cherries, jams, dehydrated soups, ketchup and more. Starbucks used cochineal dye in their strawberry frappuccinos and other foods for a long time before they announced back in 2012 that they would stop.

The cochineal insects are native to Mexico and South America. They live on the cactus plants.


Female insects eat the red cactus berries which concentrates the color in their bodies.

There are two methods used to harvest them, controlled and traditional. In both methods, the insects must be protected from predators and the elements.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

The controlled way uses little baskets which contain the female insects. They leave the nest, do their work on the cactus and breed before the cycle is over.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

In the traditional way, farmers plant infected cactus plants and harvest the insects by hand.

All of the insects are collected and the farmers pour them onto a wooden plank.

The farmer shakes the beetles for 5-6 minutes and this eventually kills the insects while retaining their dark colors.

Once the insects are dead, they are left outside in the sun for 2-3 days to dry out. Then, they are shaken in a strainer to remove excess residue.

Whichever processed is used, it takes 70,000 cochineal bugs to make just one pound of dye.

The dried bugs are crushed.

A little water added to it and a quick stir…

Here’s your red dye! Cochineal dye comes in two forms, cochineal extract and carmine. Carmine is further processed to create a more purified coloring.

If you’re a little grossed out, be sure to look at all of your food labels. Anything that has a slight pink or red color is suspect. Now the FDA requires that contain foods made with cochineal extract or carmine specifically declare the presence of the color additive by its respective common or usual name, ‘cochineal extract’ or ‘carmine,’ in the ingredient statement of the food label.



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