Are Beetle Parts Used to Color Food?

Beetle parts are used to color foods red, pink and purple. Known as cochineal, this food additive is made by drying and crushing the insects into a powder. The insects eat red cactus berries, and when they are crushed, they give off red residue. It takes about 70,000 cochineal insects to make 1 pound (0.45 kg) of red dye. Common foods that include cochineal include yogurt, fruit juice, ice cream and candy. It is also used in non-food items such as lipstick, paint and ink. Before 2009, the additive was typically referred to as natural red 4 on ingredients lists. It was found to cause allergic reactions in some people, however, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began requiring it to be listed as either cochineal or carmine extract.

More about food additives:

  • The additive phosphoric acid, which is used to add acidity to soda, is also found in rust remover and hard water stain remover.
  • Toothpaste and beer often contain an additive made from seaweed.
  • Other red dyes, such as Red #40, are often made from byproducts of coal.
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Discussion Comments

@RoyalSpyder - An example I've seen on TV is a commercial that mentioned McDonald's hamburgers containing "all beef" patties. Though this is true to some extent, it's tricky. A burger containing all beef doesn't necessarily have to contain all meat; it can include other cow parts as well, such as beef fat. These are semantics that anyone can overlook, and the advertisers use this to their advantage.

@Chmander - I can see where you're coming from, but in the case of store bought products, I don't know if I'd call it deceptive advertising. Usually when people go food shopping, it's not because they saw the products advertised on TV, right? It's because they're buying a bunch of food for their family. Obviously though, there are always exceptions. However, in the case of fast food, I definitely see your point.

This article is short, but very interesting. Until now, I wasn't aware that beetles are often used as food additives. In my opinion, it's both a fascinating and disturbing concept. It's intriguing in a sense that it shows how many foods can be made from the strangest ingredients. However, it's disturbing in a sense that it's very deceptive.

Many people aren't even aware of these additives unless they've taken the time to do research. It doesn't just apply to this article either, as many products contain hidden ingredients that can be missed in the blink of an eye. This especially applies to fast food. It's just another case of deceptive advertising.

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