Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cochineal

Have you ever wondered where that red color comes from that stuff is dyed with? Like that great carmine red color? Well me neither BUT I did learn about it the other day and thought I would share.

Periodically we have people call up to the nursery wondering about the white fungus looking stuff that is growing out of their prickly pear cactus.

It looks like this:
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And this:
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Well people, this is not a fungus – it is an insect and a very valuable one at that! If they were to run their finger over the white fibrous stuff (which I do frequently because its cool to show people what I am talking about) they would see that the white stuff is a protective coating for a bug called a cochineal!

It looks like this:
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And the Cochineal looks like this:
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The cochineal insect is native to Mexico and the production of the dye was in full force when the Spaniards arrived in Mexico in the 16th century. The Spaniards loved the bright color the dye made and started exporting it to Spain. It was a high commodity and was even regularly quoted on the London and Amsterdam Commodity Exchanges. The dye was even used to color the infamous red coats of the British Army.

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Today cochineal is primarily produced in Peru, France and the Canary Islands. These days cochineal is used in various forms including: food products like gatorade, water color paints, dye for fabrics and in various cosmetics. It is one of the only pigments that can saftely be used in the eye area. If you are looking at the label of your food or beverage (the FDA requires that even natural derived colors be put on the label) then look for "cochineal extract", "carmine", "crimson lake", "natural red 4", "C.I. 75470", "E120", and even sometimes ‘natural coloring’ – all of these can mean that the cochineal insect was used in the coloring of the product. Cochineal is one of the colours that the Hyperactive Children's Support Group recommends be eliminated from the diet of hyperactive children. But is becoming very popular again because like many commercial synthetic red dyes, it is not toxic or carcinogenic.


I have no problem comsuming insects with my daily yogurt but I am sure some people do. What do you think about this? Have you taken your child off of things that contain this red dye?

2 comments:

BlaqStarr said...

Interestingly enough, when I was a child, my mother restricted the amount of red items I consumed.

PrincessSedai said...

This is SUCH good information - we have actaully been looking into this a lot, but no one had the info as well presented as you. LOTS of parents of Spectrum Disorder children remove red dyes from their diets and have good results. We are seriously considering it. We will do it not because it from a bug, but because if it helps our son not be out of control, we want to do that for him! Thanks girl!