If you didn’t need another reason to avoid manufactured foods, a recent Mark’s Daily Apple post linked to an article that discusses red dyes used as artificial food colorings and their origins.  A popular dye known commercially as Red #4 is derived from the dried and crushed shells of red cochineal beetles (dactylopius coccus).  The insects latch themselves onto cacti leaves and the dye has been used since the time of the Aztecs and early Native Americans to color clothing and paint, but not for food.

Farms now exists where the staple crop is the cochineal beetles where they are scraped off of the cacti leaves into a vat of hot water where they die.  Their carcases are then dried and crushed into a powder where it takes about 150,000 critters to make 1kg of carmine dye.

Carminic acid is the active ingredient which produces the pink, red, and purple colors that can be found in everything from cosmetics to foods like licorice, yogurt, ice cream, fruit drinks, popsicles, and the list goes on and on.  When you read the ingredient list on something red and you see the catch all “natural and artificial colors” you can almost be sure that Red 4 is likely included.  Red 40, or Allura Red AC, is another popular red food coloring but this dye is not animal based, but rather petroleum based.  Be smart with your cheats, but just know there’s a good chance you’re ingesting beetles or oil if you’re scarfing down red M&Ms or Skittles.

You’ll be pleased to know however that as of Jan 5th, 2011 the FDA is now requiring food manufacturers to be more specific on their food ingredients list.  Instead of using the all encompassing “natural and/or artificial colors” they must disclose what ingredients are used to make these colors.  Be sure to be smart consumers and know what you’re putting into your body, especially with Valentine’s Day right around the corner.

WOD 01.22.11

4 Rounds for time:
200 Run w/ Plate
10 OH Walking Lunges
10 V-Ups
30 Double Unders

4 Responses to “Beetle Juice & Food Colorings”

January 22, 2011 at 6:27 AM

Buzzkill! Very informative but very sad! I guess no red velvet wedding cake then huh?

January 22, 2011 at 1:37 PM

Why not? Beetle shells sound plenty paleo!

January 22, 2011 at 2:16 PM

Then you posted a beautiful red velvet cupcake next to ugly insects. And I got sad.

January 22, 2011 at 2:54 PM

as a a former vegan i knew this one. sad.
thanks for the education sean!