March 28, 2012
Starbucks Uses Bugs To Color Frappuccino
Cochineal extract is a popular food additive created by crushing up bugs and is most often used to lend foods a red color.
Starbucks admitted to using cochineal extract in their famous Strawberries and Cream Frappuccino. The extract is found in the strawberry puree used to create the beverage. Starbucks is claiming the extract helps bring out the bright pink color in the beverage, as well as adhere to their goal to use only all-natural products.
As disgusting as it may sound, bugs are considered “All-natural.”
In June 2009, Starbucks announced a new initiative to “improve the taste of its food and focus on real, wholesome ingredients.” Part of this initiative included removing artificial flavors, dyes, and high fructose corn syrup. The strawberry syrup in question was changed when this new all-natural initiative went into place. Previously using high fructose corn syrup and other dyes and sweeteners, the old strawberry syrup had a darker red color. The new syrup, now called a “puree," contains no artificial sweeteners or dyes. As such, the color changed to a light pink as opposed to a dark red. Starbucks recently admitted to the use of cochineal to bring out the desired color in their Frappuccino. In a press release from 2009 announcing the new changes, registered dietician for Starbucks, Katie Thomson said, “At Starbucks, our salads and smoothies were designed to deliver real nutrition and great flavors at a sensible calorie level.”
Though cochineal is a by-product of bug parts, it actually contains no bugs. The food additive is actually the chemical extract of carminic acid from the bodies of squished female "scale" insects. These insects use the carminic acid to repel ants and other predators. As these insects are squished to remove the carminic acid, the bug parts are strained out, leaving behind a bright, red extract.
Starbucks isn´t the first to use the buggy extract to color their food products. If you begin to examine the labels on your favorite foods, chances are you´ll find it with some regularity. Cochineal is known as carmine, carminic acid, natural red 4, or E120. It is used in all sorts of foods such as sausage, yogurts, juices, artificial crab, and even lipstick and blush. Cochineal is often found in anything claiming to be “strawberry” flavored and is even quite popular in February as Valentine's Day rolls around. In addition to making all sorts of foods bright, rosy red, it is also what gives devil´s food cake its devilish red color.
Those worried if cochineal or carminic acid is safe have little worry about. While it´s never a bad idea to check the labels, only a handful of people have reported an allergy to the bug extract. The FDA had this to say about the effects of cochineal and labeling: “we identified three adverse events over an approximately 10-year period that involved products containing carmine or cochineal extract in which those color additives did not or probably did not appear on the ingredient list“¦.We applied a reporting rate of 1 percent to this figure to obtain our estimate of 31 adverse events per year.”
As to whether or not the Frappuccino is vegan, Starbucks told GlobalPost, “we have the goal to minimize artificial ingredients in our products. While the strawberry base isn´t a vegan product, it helps us move away from artificial dyes.”
Image Caption: A cluster of females scale insects. Credit: Frank Vincentz/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)