Cochineal – Have You Been Served With Bugs In Your Food?


How many of us would eat a bug – fried, toasted, grilled, etc, with pleasure?

With all due respect to readers who do enjoy such delicacies, I bet most of us would not even be willing to touch, let alone consume, a bug.  However, it seems that, we most probably have been consuming those bugs unknowingly since forever.

Ever heard of ‘cochineal’? 

If you’ve ever made jelly (agar-agar), you may have read the word ‘cochineal’ on the label of the red food colouring.  Google for ‘Cochineal’ and you’ll find this info:

The cochineal ……. is a scale insect in the suborder Sternorrhyncha, from which the crimson-coloured dye carmine is derived. A primarily sessile parasite native to tropical and subtropical South America and Mexico, this insect lives on cacti in the genus Opuntia, feeding on plant moisture and nutrients.’ (Source: Wiki)

This tiny white bug, Cochineal (Dactylopius coccus) exudes ’red juice’ when crushed, and it’s used to color certain food and drinks.  It is considered ‘natural’, so much more preferred to the synthetic colourings used in the past.

So, could it have been used to colour our red jelly, red velvet cake, etc?

Does it really matter to consumers?

Yes, it does.

Last year, Starbucks was under heat when customers boycotted Starbucks over its Strawberries & Crème Frappuccino® which consisted of the red dye made from cochineal….

…and as a result, Starbucks are now using lycopene, a natural, tomato-based extract, in the strawberry sauce (base) used in their Strawberries & Crème Frappuccino® blended beverage and Strawberry Banana Smoothie.

So, could our beloved strawberry milk be laden with the bug juice?

I honestly don’t know.

Anyway, insects as food are getting quite a publicity and credibility this year.  In anticipation of 2050, when the world population may reach 9 bllion people, and land is scarce, oceans overfished, climate change adversely affecting agriculture, and so forth, a paper ‘Edible insects – Future prospects for food and feed security’ is produced on behalf of Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations (2013).

According to the said Paper,

… recent developments in research and development show edible insects to be a promising alternative for the conventional production of meat, either for direct human consumption or for indirect use as feedstock.

It is also stated that the composition of unsaturated omega-3 and six fatty acids in mealworms is comparable with that in fish (and higher than in cattle and pigs), and the protein, vitamin and mineral content of mealworms is similar to that in fish and meat.

So, do not underestimate them, dear readers.  Insects may be the food of the future.

Cochineal – Have You Been Served With Bugs In Your Food?

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