Friday, July 8, 2011

What's Really in Our Food?

I have been reading about what is used to make our foods "red". Did you know it could be bugs?

Yikes!!  It came as a little shock to see cochineal as a colorant in the ingredients listing of several foods.

Should this bother me? Cochineal is a natural colorant made from bugs that live on cactus. The most prized of the bugs are the pregnant females, because their bodies hold the most dye. (It does makes a lovely dye, and I know of those who are using it that way to dye yarn, etc.) Up until the late 1800's it was about the only means of getting a true red. On the other hand, MANY people don't know what the word means.

It turns out that this colorant is also known as carmine and carminic acid. These terms show up on many food products, and even the term "natural colorings" can mean cochineal. Fruit juices, yogurts, popsicles, sauces, sodas, gelatin and candies  all contain this coloring. I have checked the particular yogurt I eat and thank goodness none of those terms was listed in the ingredients!! (Red Color #40 is not made from cochineal bugs.)

I'm not a huge fan of bugs (especially our MN mosquitoes), although I do love butterflies, dragonflies and beneficial insects. However, I don't want them in my food. So that means reading labels of red foods carefully.

Food and beverage manufacturers that use the color additives are now required to declare their presence by their respective names - "cochineal extract" or "carmine" - in the ingredient statement. The FDA said this “will allow consumers who are allergic to these color additives to identify and thus avoid products that contain these color additives”.

Here at Gathered From the Garden we only use bugs as stamps/decorations. Do you have a favorite "bug" or a not-so-favorite "bug" story to share?

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