Cochineal in Your Coffee? It’s Okay. Really.

Posted on Mar 28, 2012 in History | 1 comment

Uh-oh.  Somebody just figured out that Starbucks Strawberry Frappuccinos contain cochineal.  This is probably nothing new–what has changed lately is that the FDA now requires that ingredient labels specify whether cochineal is used for coloring.  I’m guessing that someone only recently noticed the change to the ingredients listing.

Yes, cochineal is a bug.  It’s a kind of scale–a sucking insect that latches on to prickly pear cactus.  It secretes a brilliant red dye, and for that reason it’s been used to color textiles, paper, and food for ages. Spanish explorers were thrilled to discover such a brilliant red dye, so they brought it to Europe from Latin America.

More on cochineal when The Drunken Botanist comes out next year, by the way.

Why shouldn’t you be freaked out about drinking bugs with your coffee?  Well, it is a natural coloring. It’s used in cosmetics, candies, yogurt, ice cream, and lots of other foods.  And although Campari stopped using the dye in 2006, it’s absolutely a standard source of red coloring for all sorts of lovely liqueurs. These days, any spirits made in the EU must disclose on their label whether they contain cochineal (also called carmine, Natural Red 4, or E120.) In the United States, we may soon see a similar requirement to label spirits that contain the ingredients, but it hasn’t happened yet.  (If you really care about this issue, watch this page for updates.)

One Comment

  1. Carmine! That is in my Burt’s Bees lip balm! Sucking beeswax off my lips for years is one thing but actual bugs is another…eww.