A) moldy jelly beans
B) microscopic view of sugar powder
D) None of the above
What you need to know:
This is a 10X zoom image of the female cochineal insect (Dactylpius Coccus), producer of what has been considered for centuries the best red dye in the world.
Originating in Aztec Mexcio, the female cochineal insects set up shop on cactii, where they breed and eat. The male lives for just one short week to reproduce and then die.
The Aztecs would collect the bugs, briefly boil them in water, dry the bodies in the sun and then pulverize them into a fine scarlet powder known as cochineal or carmine. The powder dye was used for royal garments and was later coveted by the Spanish conquistadors who brought it back to Europe.
The relevant pigment in the bugs is a bitter chemical called carminic acid. Food manufacturers began using it about 100 years ago to add luster to products such as pork sausages, dried shrimp, candies, jams, and maraschino cherries.
As food science progressed, cheaper artificial dyes Red #2 and Red #40 replaced the natural cochineal until its production became uneconomical.
However, fears over the carcinogenic effects of artificial food coloring helped cochineal stage a comeback, and it is now featured in various food products, including Yoplait strawberry yogurt.
Although carmine is considered safe by the FDA, about 1 in 10,000 people develop some sort of allergic reaction when consuming it. Thus, starting in January 2011, the FDA is requiring all foods and cosmetics using cochineal to explicitly state its presence in the ingredient list.
The new labeling will also be beneficial to vegetarians and Muslims who wish not to eat bugs. Interestingly, carmine is considered kosher by observant jews.
What to do at the supermarket:
Look for the following on the ingredient list – Carmine, Cochineal, E210.
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