The Food and Drug Administration has deemed these bugs as “safe” to add to the food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries products.
The junk food industry is trying to make more money with less spent on quality. That’s why you may notice that many companies are adding ground up and/or boiled beetle carcasses into their fruit juices, candy, ice creams, and more. These beetle carcasses contribute to the reds, purples, and pinks found in many junk food items.
You won’t find “beetle carcasses” under any of the ingredients lists. However, you may find “carminic acid” or “cochineal extract”. These terms sound scientific, but they actually describe the bugs that the junk food industry is adding to our food. The Food and Drug Administration has deemed these bugs as “safe” to add to the junk food industry’s products.
Unfortunately, when you inform people that their raspberry yogurt, maraschino cherries, Starbucks Strawberry Frappuccino, brands of lipstick, or hundreds of other items are colored with this natural extract, most are revolted instead of intrigued. In fact, outraged vegans have pressured Starbucks to look for another, non-insect-derived product to use in the frappuccino concoction.
What is a cochineal bug?
It is a small, chubby scale insect that feeds on prickly pear cactus. There are many species of scale insect. Most are very small, less than ¼ inch long, sedentary insects that suck plant sap with tiny, piercing mouth parts. They belong to the same order of insect that includes aphids, cicadas, and leaf hoppers.
You might not even recognize some scale species as insects. Adult females have no legs or wings and are basically bags of guts and eggs that seem glued to the stems or leaves of their host plant. Some scales have hard, shell-like coverings, and look like tiny shells. Cochineal bugs are covered with a waxy or powdery white coating, and often cluster on the surface of the prickly pear pads, looking like tiny cotton balls. If you squish these cottony balls, your fingers will be covered with copious amounts of a thick, dark red fluid. This intense color has been used to dye fabric for many centuries, and more recently, has become a colorant in foods and drinks. If you are concerned about eating or using products containing cochineal, you will have to read the fine print on a lot of products.
Here is a short list of items that may contain cochineal-derived colorant:
- Frozen meat and fish (e.g., artificial crab meat)
- Soft drinks, fruit drinks, energy drinks, and powdered drink mixes
- Yogurts, ice cream and dairy-based drinks
- Candy, syrups, popsicles, fillings and chewing gum
- Canned fruits including cherries and jams
- Dehydrated and canned soups
- Some wines and liqueurs (according to Wikipedia, as of 2006 carmine is no longer used to give the Italian aperitif Campari its distinctive deep red color)
- Lipstick, eyeshadow, blush, nail polish, and other cosmetic items
- Pills, ointments and syrups used in the pharmaceutical industry