Making food prettier by adding red crushed bugs

I didn’t want to discuss this topic this early in my blog writing, but it seems I have to due to the circulating rumor that Starbucks’s strawberry frappuccino had crushed bugs inside it to give it it’s red color.

Well let me tell YOU something! This ingredient is not something that is only in Starbucks frappuccino!

The food industry will certainly not put “colored with all-natural, organic ground-up red beetles” on the food label.

What is it?

The code name is E120 (on the ingredients list of a food label) and it is considered a “natural” colorant in food…right? Because it is not man made (synthetic). What they do is take a bunch of ladybugs (aka cochineal) and boil them until they obtain this wonderful crimson color. Then they add it to various food products, mainly the ones that are need to be red. In the food industry, they also call this product (the liquid color extracted from the bugs) carmine since it is derived from carminic acid.

Status on use by the food industry?

Carmine use is not banned neither in the EU (European Union) nor FDA (U.S Food and Drug Administration). Although the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is trying to get the FDA to ban carmine use or force this information on the food label.

It can fall under any of the following names: CochinealCarminic acidCarmines and Natural Red 4 and as additive E 120.

Where is it found?  

Yogurts, candies (jellybeans, sour worms, hard candies…), icecreams, cosmetic products such as lipstick and shadows.

Our main concern..

I agree, it is not something you want to find in your food, but the main concern with the use of this product is:

  • Is it appropriate for vegetarians?
  • Is it “halal”?
  • Can it trigger allergies? (Especially that it is included in children’s candies…)
The answer to questions 1 & 3 can be answered by the UK Food Guide saying that this is not suitable for vegetarians and is not recommended for children since it can cause an allergic reaction. You can find here a list of food ingredients not suitable for vegetarians.

Regarding the allergies, in many of the reported cases the use of carmine-containing cosmetics or occupational exposure (in factories for example) to carmine triggered a reaction..not the ingestion of carmine-containing foods and beverages. Reactions to carmine solely because of ingestion are likely to be exceedingly rare due to the low use levels of carmine in foods and beverages. But it does happen, and a person exposed to such a reaction will become allergic to this food additive. Despite their widespread use in food products, few reports of allergic reactions following ingestion have been reported for the majority of natural color additives (Lucas et al., 2001).

Regarding the issue of halal I am certainly not someone to make a fatwa regarding this issue. But several of the sites I came across do not proclaim it halal since it is derived from insects and insects are not halal to consume. This is enforced by the idea that the product is not suitable for vegetarians.


There is some talk of grape skin extract of being a possible alternative but that would not remove the possibility of an allergic reaction.

My recommendation

I would recommend READING the ingredients list and making an informed decision if you want to consume this product or not. This is more widespread that you would think!

My dear readers, stay informed!

Some of what I read: Natural NewsIs it Halal Blog &  Guided Ways,

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