Starbucks To Stop Using Bug-filled Food Coloring
April 20, 2012

Starbucks To Stop Using Bug-filled Food Coloring

Michael Harper for

For those thirsty consumers looking for something cold and unique to enjoy as the weather gets warmer, you´ve only got another few weeks to get over to Starbucks to try their Strawberries and Cream Frappuccino, made with real bug extract.

Ok, so it may not be that unique. As it turns out, Cochineal extract is a food grade additive approved by the USDA and is used in a sundry of products. Knowing the truth, however, doesn´t always make it any easier to swallow.

Starbucks made some waves last month when it admitted to using cochineal extract to color its strawberry puree. The puree is used in the Strawberries and Cream Frappuccino blended cream and the Strawberry Banana Smoothies.

The Seattle company switched to using the buggy additive as a part of their all natural initiative, in which they strayed away from using high-fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors and colors in their products.

The public´s response, however, has proved to be enough to get Starbugs, er., Starbucks to change their mind about the use of cochineal. Starbucks president Cliff Burrows has now announced they will begin using a plant based extract in their strawberry puree as well as in their red-colored food offerings. In their “Ideas In Action Blog” Burrows said the following:

“After a thorough, yet fastidious, evaluation, I am pleased to report that we are reformulating the affected products to assure the highest quality possible. Our expectation is to be fully transitioned to lycopene, a natural, tomato-based extract, in the strawberry sauce (base) used in our Strawberries & Crème Frappuccino® blended beverage and Strawberry Banana Smoothie.”

As it turns out, their strawberry drinks weren´t the only Starbucks products to contain cochineal. In addition, Burrows said their Raspberry Swirl Cake contained the extract, as well as their “cuter,” more petite items, such as the Birthday Cake Pops, Mini Pink Donuts with pink icing, and the so-much-fun-to-say Red Velvet Whoopie Pie.

According to Burrows, the use of insect dye will be “fully transitioned from existing product inventories” by the end of June.

Jim Olsen, a Starbucks Spokesman, told CNN that the company was responding to “numerous” requests and petitions to change their recipe. The vegan community was particularly upset, as Starbucks never made any mention until their March 27th announcement about the use of bugs in their beverages.

As reported on, cochineal has been used for years as an additive to lend foods a certain rosy color. The extract, which also goes by the names carmine, carminic acid, natural red 4, or E120, is a by-product of bug parts, though it contains no actual bugs. Cochineal is the chemical extract of squished “scale” insects. In nature, these insects use the carminic acid to repel ants and other dangerous predators. The bugs are dried and then squished together. The bug parts are strained, leaving behind only a bright, rosy red extract, ready to be applied to your food.

Carminic acid is more common than you may be comfortable with. If the thought of digesting this extract makes you sick, a quick look at the ingredients to several common food products may not bring you comfort. Cochineal is often found in sausage, yogurt, juice, artificial crab, and even some cosmetic products.