Red Dye

Over the last year or so I have been attempting to lead a healthier lifestyle. I quit using damaging chemicals to on my hair and body, I start incorporating exercise into my daily life (walks and basic exercise whenever), and I began making healthier food choices. Let me say I am not perfect, and I do not strictly stick to a plan I just take it one step at a time. Every since I have been more aware of what I am eating I have become a label-reading fanatic. I like to know what I am eating and if I am unsure of an ingredient, I will research it. I am required to do a blog for my English class and I could not think of a better topic than food additives.


For as long as I can remember I always loved eating candy that was red or pink, they always seemed to tastes the best; flavors of strawberry, watermelon or cherry. As a kid (and even now) I would pick out the pink or red candy. Only now to find out that all along what gives some candy that attractive red color is bugs! Had I been told this as a child I would have probably given up sweets all together. Cochineal extract, carmine, carminic acid or better known as natural red 4 dyes is derived from cochineal insects. Cochineal insects, scientifically known as Dactylopuis coccus of the order Hemiptera, are native to South America and Mexico they live on prickly pear cacti plants. I have done a little research on hemiptera and they are usually pest to a variety of plant families; sucking the nutrients and moisture needed for the plants survival. The female cochineal is killed, sun-dried, and extracted. It takes 70,000 bugs to make one pound of red dye.

My perspective on insects /bugs is that nearly all of them are gross and kind of creepy but that does not mean that they should necessarily be killed. I am not going to go out of my way to not kill a bug but I am not going to kill every bug that gets in my way. But 70,000 insects to make one pound on dye are a bit extreme. The vibrant colors of food dyes are used to make food appear more healthy and appetizing.


The use of carminic extract is controversial especially for people with vegetarian or vegan diets. Not to mention it may cause allergic reactions. There are better alternatives, like red dye 40.

Cochineal bugs are not only used in candy but soda, energy drinks, soft drinks, mouth wash, canned cherries and jams, lip stick, yogurt, ice cream, ketchup and many more products used in our daily lives.

I am not arguing against the use of carminic acid (cochineals) as an additive and I am not fighting for it, I am just grossed out and I will definitely do a better job at limiting the amount of food coloring that is in my food. And I have a feeling that the image of eating crushed bugs will definitely do its part in helping me limit the amount of food coloring in my diet.

Although it has been practiced for centuries and used to dye fabrics, food and drinks –it is still gross.