Bugs in food…it’s something many people have unknowingly experienced, even though the insects may be listed on the ingredients. They go by their more “clinical” names, of course, but they come from beetles. Yes, beetles.
As if the thought of eating bugs isn’t unsettling enough, these buggy additives are placed in our food right under our noses. Typically, people aren’t willingly ingesting these bugs, even though they are often listed on the ingredients. They’re found under names such as “chochineal extract,” “carmine,” and even “confectioner’s glaze”—names that sound innocent enough.
While the names may sound harmless, the results of ingesting these bugs are not so innocuous. For some, the consequences of eating these bug parts are downright devastating, resulting in allergic reactions ranging from asthma to anaphylactic shock.
Here’s a rundown on these critters and where you can find them:
Cochineal extract and carmine are used to dye food, drinks, and cosmetics shades of red, orange, pink and purple and come from the dried bodies of the female chochineal bug—a parasitic insect that lives on cacti. They’re often found in fruit drinks, yogurts, ice creams, colorful candies and even sprinkles. They’ve been known to turn up in pink lemonade, strawberry yogurt, maraschino cherries, ruby red grapefruit juice and a whole lot more.
Confectioner’s glaze, food glaze, resinous glaze and pharmaceutical glaze are glamorized names for shellac, the excretion from a certain type of beetle. Some people argue that this excretion’s not too different from how we get honey, but shellac is harvested beetles and all. (That doesn’t sound too appetizing or leave much to the imagination.)
In all fairness, a corn protein called zein can also be labeled as confectioner’s glaze, but that’s not often the form found. Unfortunately, the bugs have the market cornered on confectioner’s glaze.
Recently, the FDA finalized a rule requiring food companies to list cochineal extract and carmine on the label when they are used in food and cosmetics. This new ruling doesn’t take effect until 2011, however. It’s some progress, though. For years, the FDA didn’t require color additives to be specifically named on food labels and these buggy additions have hidden behind terms like “artificial colors” or “color added.”
Unfortunately, this new ruling doesn’t require companies to tell you that the ingredients come from a bug. Many people want to avoid these bug-based ingredients, however, for dietary, health, or other reasons. The problem is that people are often being bugged without their knowledge.
Additional official descriptors of products with chochineal extract include the following addendum, which is seemingly meant to downplay the bug content, too: “Commercial products may also contain proteinaceous material derived from the source insect.”
Proteinaceous material from the source insect? That’s just disgusting.
Who wants to hire an exterminator for their food? Not me.