I confess that I’m not all that bugged about bugs. Now granted, I rarely visit Starbucks and when I do, it’s never been for a creamy, pink, Strawberry, calorie laden concoction but the outcry from consumers has surprised me a bit. Meet the cochineal.
We first became familiar with him when he invaded the prickly pear cactus outside the front door of our home. I was picking at the cotton like substance with a stick and discovered the brilliant beet red color imbedded within it. That was my first clue that this isn’t an ordinary plant virus. Over the years, we’ve scraped it off for a myriad of elementary art projects. When I visited Peru last year, I happened upon a textile group where they were using it to dye wool. I was excited at the familiarity and to learn that when salt was added, it was also used for orange dye. The wonderful ladies also shared that they’ve used it for cosmetic purposes. How else does one achieve those Andean ruby red lips?
So last week, an apparently concerned barista revealed to media sources that the red magic behind Starbuck’s strawberry drinks, red cake pops and a red velvet whoopie is in fact, the cochineal. I don’t fault her for that at all. In fact, my understanding is that she is vegan and simply wants to get the word out that this drink and a few other food items contain insects so that other vegans are aware. I believe in truth in labeling but I also don’t mind Starbuck’s response. They are using it as a method to move away from synthetic red dyes. That’s a good thing in my mind but then I’m the mom of three school-age boys and know all too well about the effect of red food dyes in – well, actually anything. It’s just that few consumers are aware that the words like carmine, C.I. 75470, cochineal extract, crimson lake, E120, natural red 4 and sometimes even natural coloring, refer to dye derived from an insect.
If you’ve read here for very long, you know I’m not vegan. One of the primary reasons is that I have a deep penchant for farm fresh organic eggs. You might also know that I celebrate Easter and given both, I’m thankful for a story that broke just in time for me to try something new. Enter the carmine dyed Easter egg.
After scraping the cactus, we whisked the output with hotwater and then strained it. We soaked each of the hard-boiled eggs in the solution for about 5 minutes. On the second batch, I added white vinegar. Initially the solution turned a chili-pepper orange color but as you can see, the eggs that I did in that part are more of a camo-variety. Still, they might be popular with the boys.
If you do celebrate Easter, have a wonderful weekend. If you don’t celebrate Easter, likewise.