Small subtropical bugs have been crushed up and sold in popular food products for years, and most people are totally oblivious.
The cochineal is a small-scale insect that lives and feasts on cacti in Mexico, the southwestern United States, and subtropical regions of South America.
When the females are dried and crushed, the creepy crawlies produce a powerful red dye that’s used to colour everything from fish that might look grey and unappetizing and canned cherries to food products that are more likely to contain artificial flavours like Fruitopia strawberry drinks, ice-cream, and ketchup.
Basically, any product you see in the grocery store that appears red or pink very well could be getting its colour from crushed up cochineal.
For example, President’s Choice Strawberry Lemonade is made of the following: Water, sugar (cane sugar, strawberry purée), lemon juice, natural flavour, and cochineal.
While the use of synthetic dyes has offset a great deal of the cochineal’s prevalence in the food industry, it still manages to squeeze its way into a number of products that most people wouldn’t expect.
In 2012, Starbucks came under fire from vegans who were outraged that the company was using the insect as a food dye for their Strawberry Frappuccino.
The cosmetic industry is another place where cochineal is commonly found, specifically in red lipstick, blush, and eye shadow. So, if you’re a woman, just know that the next time you apply your favourite shade of ruby red, you might actually be smearing ground-up bugs across your lips.