About 24 hours ago, I was at an open house, casually eating mozzarella sticks, when BOOM. Subliminal flavoring! I forgot. I’m mildly disappointed in myself, because it’s such a joy to write these entries and to educate myself (and the couple people reading this) about the gross stuff that’s in your processed (or maybe not so) food. So here I am again. I was planning on writing about mozzarella sticks, (maybe to discourage myself from eating so many) but I read through the previous posts, and found I said I’d write about Red #40. So here it is, folks. Enjoy.
(This picture is actually a herd of Polish Cochineal basking on their natural habitat – the cactus)
I learned something I didn’t know! It turns out that Red #40 is NOT made of bugs!! But don’t get too excited, there is also a dye named Carmine, (I thought they were the same thing) which IS made of bugs. So I’ll be writing about both of them. To begin, the more harmful of the two: Red 40.
Red 40 (also known as Allura Red Ac, Food Red 17, etc.) is an inorganic chemical compound (the compound being carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, sulfur, and nitrogen). This lovely sounding ingredient (according to Wikipedia) was originally made from coal tar, but is now more popularly formed by petroleum. Southampton University confirmed that this dye (among a few others) can lead to hyperactivity in young children, allergies, stomachaches, and migraines. Across the globe, studies have also been done to try to prove that it may cause cancer. Don’t worry. It hasn’t been proven yet. This dye, unfortunately, is quite difficult to avoid, as it is commonly used to enhance the colors of fresh fruits, vegetables, and even the salmon at your local grocery store. Disappointing. Red 40 is also used in cosmetics, drugs, and even tattoo ink.
On to the stuff you’ve all been dying to hear about. Carmine Red (often disguised as Crimson Lake, natural red 4, etc.). I’ll go ahead and say that other than in food, this ‘ingredient’ is used to make artificial flowers, ink, and rouge. As for how it’s made, well, innocent female Polish Cochineal insects are taken from their cacti homes and placed into bags to be transported. When they reach their destination, they are killed by boiling, or drying. Once they are sufficiently dead, the abdomen and fertilized eggs are removed and crushed. This is when the process turns into two different approaches. The first: these insect pieces are boiled in ammonia or sodium carbonate, (also according to wikipedia) which is then removed by filtering (the bad stuff goes to the top, the ‘good’ stuff goes to the bottom). Then, alum is added to this product called carminic acid, and ta da. Natural Red 4! The second approach sounds slightly healthier, but is the less common of the two. The insect parts are boiled in water, filtered, then immediately treated with alum. Another unfortunate part of this whole process is that it takes a whopping 70,000 insects to make a single pound of this dye. Crazy.
On the bright side, Carmine Red has no significant health hazards (except for occasional allergies). So unless you’re afraid of eating bugs and acid, I’d recommend you choose Carmine Red over Red #40.
It’s been my pleasure educating you.
I bid you good eating!