Monday, December 28, 2009

The red coats came.


It is hard to believe that these little tackers, small scale insects on a South American cactus, are useful but they are the source of the common food colour, Cochineal.

The very same colour responsible for the original red coats of the British army:

It takes some 70,000 of the little critters to make a pound of dye.

There are two principal forms of cochineal dye: cochineal extract is a colouring made from the raw dried and pulverised bodies of insects, and carmine is a more purified colouring made from the cochineal. To prepare carmine, the powdered insect bodies are boiled in ammonia or a sodium carbonate solution, the insoluble matter is removed by filtering, and alum is added to the clear salt solution of carminic acid to precipitate the red aluminium salt. Purity of colour is ensured by the absence of iron. Stannous chloride, citric acid, borax, or gelatin may be added to regulate the formation of the precipitate. For shades of purple, lime is added to the alum.




  1. Several months ago I read or heard somewhere about these little bugs made into food dye and used in yogurt, etc. It totally grossed me out. What other foods are colored with this stuff? Is it even healthy? Please elaborate!


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