Deal With It: Bugs are Used to Color Your Food and Cosmetics


Cochineal (Dactylopius coccus) – (CC BY-SA 3.0) – Photo: Frank Vincentz on Wikimedia Commons

After getting up this morning, I headed to the kitchen for some orange juice, but alas, none was left, so I took a small glass of mango raspberry lemonade. While drinking it, I took the bottle, flipped it over, and glanced at the ingredients. Everything appeared normal, apart from the last thing on the list: cochineal. Curious, I googled the term on my phone and was a bit taken aback to learn that cochineal is a bug.

Did they put some bugs in my lemondade? Well, yes, they did. Cochineals (Dactylopius coccus) are used as a natural red color additive and have been in use by humans as far as the 15th century. They also go by different names on product labels: cochineal, carmine, carminic acid, Natural Red 4, or E120. These are used in many things that have a reddish or pinkish color: from artificial crab, to cosmetics, to the lemonade I drank this morning. Companies use it because the color it gives is remarkably stable under most conditions.

And yes, the FDA, as well as most governmental organizations around the world, know there are bugs in your food. Here’s a very long and very complete list of them. If you’re squeamish, avoid reading it.

Will I stop drinking that lemonade or start checking the food label of everything I eat from now on? Not really. I like sleeping at night, and freaking out over something like this is not really good for my mental health, so as Elsa sings in Forzen: Let it go!