Friday, April 20, 2012

Starbucks to discontinue carmine colorants

The president of Starbucks announced yesterday that the company will no longer use the insect-based colorant called cochineal extract, also known as carmine dye, in its "Strawberries and Creme Frappuccino." 

The company had moved to the bug-based red coloring agent in order to use more natural ingredients. However, pressure from vegans forced them to reconsider.

The carmine dye is made from the Cochineal insect, which lives as a parasite on cactus plants. It is a harmless natural ingredient, and is already used in many cosmetics and foods, such as lipstick, barbecue sauce, and pie fillings. 

Despite its poor lightfastness, it has been used as a clothing dye and an artist's pigment. Scientists have done tests to find that the red in this portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds was made from Cochineal-based carmine lake.

Starbucks announcement
Wikipedia on Cochineal
Color tests on S.J. Reynolds
More pigment stories in my book Color and Light


John said...

Ha! Bug colors! Christopher Moore's new book "Sacre Bleu" touches on the subject of color pigments and their source quite a bit. It's also a fun read about painters (mostly Impressionist) and inspiration from a very "Christopher Moore" point of view.

Bob Mrotek said...

Cochineal carmine was also used on for the red of the British "Redcoats" and the red stripes of the original American Flag. Two excellent excellent sources on cochineal and carmine red are:

A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire
by Amy Butler Greenfield
Harper Perennial (April 25, 2006)
ISBN-10: 0060522763
ISBN-13: 978-0060522766

Color: A Natural History of the Palette
by Victoria Finlay
Random House (December 30, 2003)
ISBN-10: 0812971426
ISBN-13: 978-0812971422

Anonymous said...

Shellac, though not a color is made from the lac bug 'excretions'

Lee Smith said...

Those Vegans and their crazy customs! And, those pointy ears and the death grip. No wait... that's Vulcans.

MargaretR said...

Ummmm -why would it matter to vegans if an insect based colouring is used in a milk based drink?

James Gurney said...

Margaret: I think you can order a frap with soy milk if you want to avoid the moo juice.

MargaretR said...

That makes sense, I hadn't really thought about it, obviously.

Ian Harrison said...

In Australia we are blighted with many introduced plant and animal pests. One significant example is the prickley pear with are a couple of species of Opuntia cactus. These were introduced by the English soldiers sent to supervise the convicts. They needed the cactus to feed the cochineal insect which they used to dye their uniforms. Unfortunately we still have plenty of prickley pears and cochineal insect but we managed to get rid of the English soldiers.

Ciana Pullen said...

@Ian Harrison

That's interesting, I was just wondering how and why the British military and European painters had gotten their hands on a cactus-parasite. They don't exactly seem native to the area. But I somehow forgot about the British Empire spanning the globe. Something tells me @Bob Mrotek might have the definitive answer to this question :)