Thank bugs for red velvet cake? How Cochineal insects became a sustainable source of food dye

cochineal colour e
Cochineal bugs being crushed to make dye. Credit: Haute Culture

A surprising amount of the food we consume contains various compounds to add color. Marshmallows look white, but they contain blue coloring (to keep them from growing less bright as they sit on shelves). Starbucks uses food coloring in its strawberry drinks. And frozen meat, like fish and crab meat, contains red food coloring to make it more appealing.

But where do we get this food coloring from? In the case of many red dyes, it comes from an unexpected source:

The crushed bodies of a Central and South American insect, called the Cochineal.

Follow the latest news and policy debates on agricultural biotech and biomedicine? Subscribe to our newsletter.
Related article:  'Homo gluttonous': Could the history of our meat-eating, over-consuming species threaten the planet?

In order to repel other insects, birds, or other creatures that may find it to be a tasty snack, the Cochineal produces a nasty-tasting compound called carminic acid… If you harvest a bunch of these bugs, crush them up, and dunk them in an acidic solution, the carminic acid can be extracted. When extracted and processed through mixing with salts, the result is carmine dye, which is a brilliant, vibrant red color.

(You may also recognize this color under other names, including Cochineal extract, Natural Red 4, E120, or Crimson Lake.)

Thankfully, these bugs grow and reproduce quickly, since it can take 70,000 individual Cochineal insects to produce a pound of Carmine Red dye!

Read the original post

Outbreak
Outbreak Daily Digest
Biotech Facts & Fallacies
Talking Biotech
Genetics Unzipped
Video: Test everyone – Slovakia goes its own way to control COVID

Video: Test everyone – Slovakia goes its own way to control COVID

As Europe sees record coronavirus cases and deaths, Slovakia is testing its entire adult population. WSJ's Drew Hinshaw explains how ...
mag insects image superjumbo v

Disaster interrupted: Which farming system better preserves insect populations: Organic or conventional?

A three-year run of fragmentary Armageddon-like studies had primed the journalism pumps and settled the media framing about the future ...
dead bee desolate city

Are we facing an ‘Insect Apocalypse’ caused by ‘intensive, industrial’ farming and agricultural chemicals? The media say yes; Science says ‘no’

The media call it the “Insect Apocalypse”. In the past three years, the phrase has become an accepted truth of ...
globalmethanebudget globalcarbonproject cropped x

Infographic: Cows cause climate change? Agriculture scientist says ‘belching bovines’ get too much blame

A recent interview by Caroline Stocks, a UK journalist who writes about food, agriculture and the environment, of air quality ...
organic hillside sweet corn x

Organic v conventional using GMOs: Which is the more sustainable farming?

Many consumers spend more for organic food to avoid genetically modified products in part because they believe that “industrial agriculture” ...
benjamin franklin x

Are most GMO safety studies funded by industry?

The assertion that biotech companies do the research and the government just signs off on it is false ...
favicon

Environmental Working Group: EWG challenges safety of GMOs, food pesticide residues

Known by some as the "Environmental Worrying Group," EWG lobbies for tighter GMO legislation and famously puts out annual "dirty dozen" list of fruits and ...
m hansen

Michael Hansen: Architect of Consumers Union ongoing anti-GMO campaign

Michael K. Hansen (born 1956) is thought by critics to be the prime mover behind the ongoing campaign against agricultural biotechnology at Consumer Reports. He is an ...
News on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.
Optional. Mail on special occasions.
Send this to a friend