Starbucks has come under fire again: this time for using food coloring derived from crushed bugs.
After a lot of unwanted publicity and pressure from vegans—well, not just vegans—the company has promised to phase out the ingredient, called cochineal, as of this June.
Now, I’m neither a vegan, nor a Starbucks customer. Actually, the thought of bugs in my food doesn’t make me queasy at all. Why would it? I’m sure I unknowingly ingest dozens of insects every year, just from eating fruits and vegetables. Still, a lot of my friends were surprised and bothered by this issue. So I decided to find out how prominent cochineal is, and what other kinds of insect-y goodness we might be eating every day.
Cochineal is a reddish-purple pigment, used to color many more foods than just Starbucks Frappuccinos. It also colors jams, gelatin desserts, ice cream, pies, sausages, juice, soft drinks, confections, yogurts, and a lot of other food products not naturally red, purple, pink, or orange. Cochineal can also be found in some lipsticks, eyeliner, and clothing.
(Note: the use of cochineal in foods has increased because manufacturers have moved away from synthetic colorants. Maybe we should just stop coloring our food altogether?)
Cochineal is one of the few bug-based food colorings I could find. However, parts of insects and other animals make their way into many of our most familiar products; serving other purposes, under different names. Here are a few of them:
A protein rendered from the skin, tendons, ligaments, and bones of cows and pigs, Gelatin is added to products to help them keep their shape. It’s often used in health and beauty products, and in some foods, like puddings, candies, marshmallows, and ice cream.
Glycerin (aka Glycerol)
Glycerin is an animal-fat byproduct with many purposes—it can serve as a sweetener, preservative, or lubricant. It is used in cosmetics, food, chewing gum, toothpaste, soap, some medicines and ointments, and vodka, among many other products.
A protein obtained from horns, hooves, feathers, quills, and animal hair or fur, Keratin is used in many hair and nail products, as it prevents cracking and splitting.
Shellac, a resin secreted by the lac insect and some other insects, provides color for food glazes, wood finishes, stains, high-gloss varnishes, cosmetics, and jewelry.
Stearic Acid (aka Tallow)
Stearic acid is collected from the fat of cows and sheep, as well as animals euthanized in shelters. It’s found in health and beauty products, soaps, candles, deodorants, chewing gum, crayons, rubber, some paints, and food flavorings.