Beetle juice in your food is more than just a myth — food industries often use crushed female cochineal beetles to dye food such as candy, yogurts, drinks, marinades, bakery products, toppings, cookies, desserts, icings, pie fillings, jams, preserves, gelatins, juices, dairy products, sauces and dessert products.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, it takes 40,000 bugs to produce one pound of cochineal extract.According to one description:“The insects are carefully brushed from the cacti… and placed into bags. The bags are taken to the production plant and there, the insects are then killed by immersion in hot water or by exposure to sunlight, steam or the heat of an oven. It is to be noted that the variance in appearance of commercial cochineal is caused by the different methods used during this process. It takes about 70,000 insects to make one pound (454 gm) of cochineal. The body of one cochineal is said to contain between 18-20% of carminic acid.
The part of the insect that contains the most carmine is the abdomen that houses the fertilized eggs of the cochineal. Once dried, a process begins whereby the abdomens and fertilized eggs are separated from the rest of the anatomical parts. These are then ground into a powder and cooked to extract the maximum amount of color. This cooked solution is filtered and put through special processes that cause all carmine particles to precipitate to the bottom of the cooking container. The liquid is removed and the bottom of the container is left with pure carmine.”
The additive is also known as Cochineal, Natural Red 4, C.I. 75470, E120, Cochineal Extract, Carmine, Crimson Lake.
The public health advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest has stated that, “Cochineal extract is a coloring extracted from the eggs of the cochineal beetle, which lives on cactus plants in Peru, the Canary Islands and elsewhere. … These colorings have caused allergic reactions that range from hives to life-threatening anaphylactic shock.”