Starbucks recently started using cochineal extract, which is made from crushed insects, as a food dye in products that are pink or red in color.
Starbucks spokesman Jim Olson said Starbucks switched from synthetic red dyes to the bug extract in response to customers who wanted Starbucks to use more natural ingredients whenever possible in Starbucks products.
“This is an alternative to other synthetic red dyes that are out there,” Olson said, adding that the product is commonly used in juices, yogurts and other products.
The ingredient change caught the attention of a vegan barista, who sent a copy of the ingredient list to a website called This Dish is Veg.
Change.org, an advocacy group, then launched a petition aiming to stop Starbucks from using the product.
Use of Cochineal Extract
Cochineal extract is the natural red dye made from insects in question. The "insect dye" is a scale insect from which the crimson color dye is derived. Cochineal is used to produce scarlet, orange and other red tints. While cochineal extract has been used for thousands of years, it has become commercially valuable again by companies looking for natural alternatives to synthetic dyes. Most consumers are unaware that the phrases "cochineal extract", "carmine", "crimson lake", "natural red 4", "C.I. 75470", "E120", or even "natural colouring" refer to a dye that is derived from an insect
In 2009 the Food and Drug Administration began requiring companies to tell customers when they are using cochineal extract in foods, citing the potential for allergic reactions. The move followed a push by the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Cochineal Extract Not Totally natural
To prepare the the powdered insect bodies are boiled in ammonia (a toxic chemical) or a sodium carbonate solution, the insoluble insect matter is removed by filtering, and alum is added to the clear salt solution of carminic acid to precipitate the red aluminium salt. 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.
“We certainly respect and understand the interest this is getting, but cochineal extract is a very common ingredient in foods and juices and beverages,” Olson said.
Olsen added that Starbucks has no plans to move to a different ingredient at this time.