Starbucks’ Strawberry and Creme Frappuccino gets its pink color from crushed parasitic insects, Dactylopius coccus. When crushed, the little white insects produce a bright red color, cochineal, which (notes NPR) has been used “for centuries” in food, makeup and paints to illuminate manuscripts.
Photo of crushed cochineal by madprime
In Peru, people scrape the red coloring off cactus leaves to help feed their families and their children to school.
Aside from the unsettling thought that you may have been ingesting powdered insects via your local Starbucks, the straw-buggy blended drinks have some other drawbacks.
After a website, ThisDishIsVegetarian.com, announced on March 14 that Starbucks’ strawberry drink contains cochineal, the company confirmed that it is also used in its strawberry smoothies, as well as in food items including its birthday cake pop, mini donut with pink icing and red velvet whoopee pie. Starbucks at first defended cochineal as a “commonly used ingredient and … a natural, FDA-approved colorant found in a wide variety of food and beverage products in the U.S.” But more recently, the company’s president, Cliff Burrows, writes on the Starbucks blog that it is reconsidering its use of cochineal and “reviewing alternative natural ingredients.”
Burrows also wrote that cochineal is “a safe product that poses no health risk.” But NPR points out that cochineal can cause asthma and allergies — sometimes severe — in some people; for this reason, the FDA has required that companies note these reactions on the labels of foods and cosmetics containing cochineal and carmine (which is another name for food coloring made from scale insects). According to Inhabitat, studies have also linked cochineal to “anaphylactic shock in factory workers exposed to the substance.”
Grist underscores that “the Starbucks bug juice poses the biggest problem for vegans, who thought the dairy-free version of the frap was safe to consume.” It’s also disquieting for anyone who prefers not to eat meat and animal products to know that they may have unknowingly downed insects.
We know that the Strawberry Quik powder that turns milk pink and perfume-y is laden with artificial flavors and colors. Starbucks strawberry drinks may use “natural” ingredients, but some of these are substances that you may well prefer not to imbibe.
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