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The Gross Truth about Natural Colors

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Cochineal insectsare soft-bodied, flat, oval-shaped scale insects, native to tropical and subtropicalSouth AmericaandMexico. They live oncacti, feeding on the plant’s moisture and nutrients. The deep crimson dye is produced by the females and their babies (nymphs) to deter predation by other insects, as they cannot fly, and they remain immobile while feeding.

For commercial production of carmine dye, cochineal bugs are farmed for three months, then collected at ninety days old. According to one description:

“The insects are carefully brushed from the cacti… and placed into bags. The bags are taken to the production plant and there, the insects are then killed by immersion in hot water or by exposure to sunlight, steam or the heat of an oven. It is to be noted that the variance in appearance of commercial cochineal is caused by the different methods used during this process. It takes about 70,000 insects to make one pound (454 gm) of cochineal. The body of one cochineal is said to contain between 18-20% of carminic acid.

The part of the insect that contains the most carmine is the abdomen that houses the fertilized eggs of the cochineal. Once dried, a process begins whereby the abdomens and fertilized eggs are separated from the rest of the anatomical parts. These are then ground into a powder and cooked to extract the maximum amount of color. This cooked solution is filtered and put through special processes that cause all carmine particles to precipitate to the bottom of the cooking container. The liquid is removed and the bottom of the container is left with pure carmine.”

During production, various other substances can be used, including stannous chloride, citric acid, borax, or gelatin.

Image: Madeleine Ball (Flickr)

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Read more: Animal Rights, Conscious Consumer, Diet & Nutrition, Food, Health, Pets, Vegan

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Angel Flinn

Angel Flinn is Director of Outreach for Gentle World a non-profit educational organization whose core purpose is to help build a more peaceful society, by educating the public about the reasons for being vegan, the benefits of vegan living, and how to go about making the transition.

284 comments

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2:43PM PST on Feb 2, 2011

Cheers!

5:47AM PST on Jan 24, 2011

Vanessa, do you think insects are not animals? They too are part of the animal kingdom.

4:40PM PST on Jan 23, 2011

Interesting

10:23AM PST on Jan 22, 2011

I wouldn't care except it's unclean for me. We can only eat grasshoppers and crickets in the insect family.

1:16PM PST on Jan 14, 2011

Ewww. But I'm glad it's not an animal product.

3:45PM PST on Dec 26, 2010

Didn't know this, so good to know

12:32AM PST on Dec 26, 2010

all i can see theses days is that white stuff(snow)

2:58AM PST on Dec 25, 2010

Thanks

2:58AM PST on Dec 25, 2010

Thanks

2:58AM PST on Dec 25, 2010

Thanks

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