Bugs in red food coloring
You're Eating … What?
You're Eating … What? // Strawberry yogurt (© Lenora Gim/Getty Images)
By Sally Wadyka for MSN Health & Fitness
Want some dead bugs with your dinner? Well, that's just one of the freaky ingredients involved in making some popular processed foods. And while all seven of these sound incredibly icky—though presumably used to help make your food tastier or look better—some additives are decidedly more disturbing than others. Here's what you're eating—which may inspire you to start contemplating those ingredient labels a lot more closely.
According to the FDA, this red food coloring (also known as cochineal extract) is made from dried, ground bugs . The Dactylopius coccus costa insect is native to Peru and the Canary Islands, where it feeds on red berries. The berries accumulate in the females' stomachs and in their unhatched larvae—which is what gives the extract its red coloring. Carmine is one of the most widely used coloring agents, and food manufacturers routinely use it to turn foods shades of pink, red or purple. Chances are it's what makes the color of your strawberry yogurt or that cranberry drink look so appealing.
But the problem is that at the moment, you have no way of knowing if you're ingesting these little red bugs. Instead, the label will simply read, "artificial color" or "color added." But the Vegetarian Legal Action Network petitioned the FDA to disclose the presence of carmine, and in 2010, that requirement will go into effect. "But it will still be listed only as carmine or cochineal extract, with no mention of the ingredient's source," says Michael Jacobson, Ph.D., executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "The onus will be on the consumer to know what carmine is, and that's asking a lot."