To Avoid Current Day Food Dyes Would You Eat a Bug?

I’m trying to work out ways to dye icing that don’t involve food dye. Some of the dyes today are questionable health-wise, but also, I’d like my kids to see that you can do things the old-fashioned way.

Looking back at old cookbooks, I keep noticing that they used a lot of cochineal powder to dye their icing. It comes out red or pink.

I thought about trying to use that method myself, but when I read more I discovered something that made me reconsider: Cochineal powder is made of bugs!

Image of Cochineal Bugs

Actually, it comes from insects that live on cactus plants. They’re found largely in Mexico, Peru and Spain.

They were originally introduced to Europe from Mexico in the 16th century. Cochineal insects were likely used in dyes in Mexico as early as the 11th century by the Aztecs.

I like to be adventurous in my eating, but I don’t know if I’m quite ready for that. I think I’ll try to find alternatives to Cochineal in my search for natural food colorings! I’ll post a link here to my results.

(But here’s the dirty secret – don’t read this, unless you have a strong stomach! We’re already eating the equivalent of Cochineal all the time. It’s called Carmine Dye. It’s considered a natural food coloring and it’s used in many different types of food! It’s also used in makeup, girls – even some Burt Bee’s Lip Balm has Carmine in it…)

-Mama Lisa

This article was posted on Saturday, December 6th, 2008 at 5:27 pm and is filed under Cooking with Kids, Countries & Cultures, Food & Nutrition, Food and Nutrition, Food Coloring, Mama Lisa, Mexico, Parenting, Peru, Spain, USA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

5 Responses to “To Avoid Current Day Food Dyes Would You Eat a Bug?”

  1. Evelina Says:

    Sorry but yuck to eating bugs.
    But I like the idea you want to teach your kids.
    I was born in South America, and my mother used cherry juice, grape juice and beet juice (No, it doesn’t tase bad! Add a little sugar)

  2. Lisa Says:

    That sounds good (not the bugs – the juice ideas)! I was thinking of also trying carrot juice – for orange – though I don’t know if it would go bad quickly on cookies that aren’t eaten right away. We’d like to make holiday sugar cookies with natural icing. Possibly also orange rind squeezed for orange or yellow. Turmeric for yellow – though I’m not sure if the taste will be an issue.

    I’ve done this for dying eggs naturally and it worked out well – but taste wasn’t a concern.

    I’m wondering how to do green. The main suggestion is spinach – but I’m wondering if that would change the taste – maybe because of the sugar it won’t be an issue.


  3. Miranda Says:

    Carmine dye or Cochineal powder is also used in your makeup. Like lipstick and blushes. Also found in some yogurts and other foods that you already consume.

    They are clean bugs and don’t understand why people freak out over the use of them. The are natural and in case you have not noticed there are people all over the world that consume insects.

  4. Lisa Says:

    Thanks for all of your input!

    It’s true that Carmine dye is in many products that we use (cosmetics) and the foods we eat (in the dyes manufacturers use to color the food).

    According to “Cochineal it is neither toxic nor known to be carcinogenic. However, the dye can induce an anaphylactic-shock reaction in a small number of people, due to impurities in the preparation, not due to the carminic acid.” The main known problem with it seems to be that some people are allergic. Other than that, it’s a matter about how you feel about consuming bugs, and whether or not you’re a vegetarian.

  5. L Says:

    I’m a vegetarian who has been using Burts Bees product for years. I am so suprised to have recently learnt that they use carmine / cochineal! Luckily I havn’t actualy used any of those products but I’m so dissapointed in them as they promote the welfare of Bees while they clandestinely using crushed beetles in some of their products! Please source a plant-based vegetarian alternative Burts Bees, such as beetroot extract.

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