Friday, March 30, 2012

bugs in your frappucino?

cochineal bugs | photo: Zyance
Starbucks has recently come under fire by vegetarians.  It turns out their strawberry flavored drinks have been changed.  They're using a new ingredient...cochineal extract.  That picture on the left is cochineal bugs.  They're used to make food coloring. Only pregnant females are used; their outer casings are crushed and  processed into food dye, producing a deep red color.

Also referred to as carmine, this  coloring agent has been known to cause severe allergies including urticaria and asthma.  There have also been reported cases of anaphylaxis.

Because it is made from bugs, it is considered a natural food substance and some companies use it in place of petro-chemically derived artificial colors.  Also because it is made from bugs, vegetarians do not eat cochineal.  And I believe this ingredient is considered non-kosher.   However it is appearing in a wider and wider range of foods including yogurts, ice cream, candies, and some beverages.  Cochineal is also finding it's way into cosmetics as a coloring agent.

While I know there are many cultures that eat bugs as part of their diet, they are high in protein, research has not shown that these other edible bugs carry the same allergic potential as the cochineal bug.  I also find it very irresponsible for Starbucks, which advertises that it can made vegetarian friendly drinks, would change it's ingredients without notifying it's consumers.  Even those who are not vegetarian may prefer not to ingest this substance.  And why cochineal in the first place?  There are fruit and vegetable based sources for red coloring such as beets or raspberries which could have been used instead.

Don't want to eat bugs?  Another good reason to read the label.

1 comment:

Robin said...

Very good info, Mira. I didn't realize the ingredient carmine was the same as cochineal. You probably know that in ancient Europe this was used to dye royal garments purple...and not to eat...