Cochineal Sets an Example to us All

1 Sep 2014

If we look at history, the aesthetic aspects of food were not a major consideration until relatively recently, and began to change fundamentally with the onset of the Industrial Revolution. (Today, for example, a Spanish paella rice dish would be unacceptable to any Spaniard without the saffron yellow coloring. My grandmother would send it back to the kitchen). From […]

Cochineal Sets an Example to us All

If we look at history, the aesthetic aspects of food were not a major consideration until relatively recently, and began to change fundamentally with the onset of the Industrial Revolution. (Today, for example, a Spanish paella rice dish would be unacceptable to any Spaniard without the saffron yellow coloring. My grandmother would send it back to the kitchen).

From the early nineteenth century, a trend developed to add substances to food for cosmetic reasons, including an increasing list of additives – many of which resulted in significant health hazards. In recent decades, we have seen a movement to combat the adulteration of foods with colorants containing heavy metals, dangerous organic and inorganic elements and so on.  The 20th century, with improved chemical analysis and deeper awareness, has led to the “positive listing”, indicating the substances that meet the criteria for human consumption.

Today’s concern, however, right after consumer protection, should be the environment, through the use of natural, non-toxic and biodegradable substances. In the world of edible insects, we find the Dactylopius coccus – better known as cochineal, source of one of the few water-soluble red colorants to resist degradation with time, and also one of the most light- and heat-stable and oxidation-resistant of all the natural organic colorants. It is even more stable than many synthetic food colors.

So here it is, “cochineal”, the source of carmine red. This little soldier from nature offers its magic with little to no direct ecological footprint compared to other reds, whose cultivation and processing can require prime land usage, fertilizers, pesticides and significant water. On the other hand, our champion’s natural habitat is desert to semi-desert land in underdeveloped areas, with cactus as its host.  Cochineal’s carminic acid is the ideal candidate for the food industry to compensate, in an eco-friendly way, for color variations and loss due to light, air, extremes of temperature, moisture, and storage conditions in its capricious marketing war.

After taking into consideration dietary practices, religious beliefs and dealing with possible allergies the same way as any other allergen, cochineal, with today’s industrial challenge of feeding the world without destroying the planet, could contribute to the increasing food colorant additive demand in a responsible way.

The key drawback, which is psychological, would be cochineal’s major challenge – the insect- sourced “yuck factor“, mostly driven by a lack of knowledge, custom and information by the general public.

In the FDA’s Defect Levels Handbook, insect parts are considered as one of the natural or unavoidable defects in food production that present no health hazards for humans – yet nobody seems to stop consuming  chocolate, peanut butter, marmalade, tomato sauce – or wine, for that matter –  where insect parts are frequently present.

Every trend has its consequences for the global environment. The current pace of food consumption calls for better understanding of the issues rather than a simple impulse of disgust for alternative solutions.  Above all, we must make sure that the other options on the table avoid becoming part of the problem, by taking into consideration arable land, water depletion, carbon food print and other key factors.

Related tags

Blogs New Natural

Related news

Is algae oil about to go mainstream?

Is algae oil about to go mainstream?

11 Oct 2018

Algae oil boasts some impressive nutritional, environmental and functional benefits – and several companies appear to be on the verge of broadening its use. The question remains, will food manufacturers (and consumers) buy it?

Read more 
What does the future hold for sustainable palm oil?

What does the future hold for sustainable palm oil?

3 Oct 2018

PepsiCo has become the latest major company to cut ties with a palm oil supplier because of alleged unethical practices, adding to growing demand for more sustainable production. Can the palm oil industry deliver?

Read more 
Ingredient innovation could give iced coffee a healthy boost

Ingredient innovation could give iced coffee a healthy boost

3 Oct 2018

Iced coffee is the fastest growing segment of the coffee category, and there is huge potential for ingredients with added health benefits to further drive its growth.

Read more 
Creating better texture in dairy alternatives

Creating better texture in dairy alternatives

26 Sep 2018

The market for dairy alternatives continues to rise, but creating appealing, creamy textures that mimic traditional yoghurt or cheese can be a major stumbling block. For suppliers, this challenge has become fertile ground for innovation.

Read more 
Sustainable food is big business

Sustainable food is big business

26 Sep 2018

Sustainability in the food industry has become much more than a buzzword, as companies increasingly realise that it is vital to their long term profitability.

Read more 
Healthy aging: Spotlight on ingredients for joint health

Healthy aging: Spotlight on ingredients for joint health

19 Sep 2018

Glucosamine and chondroitin are commonly used ingredients for healthy joints, but with increased focus on improved mobility as the population ages, other innovative ingredients are gaining ground.

Read more 
Natural health trend boosts demand for botanical flavours

Natural health trend boosts demand for botanical flavours

19 Sep 2018

Herbs, spices and extracts are gaining in popularity as consumers look for natural, recognisable flavours in their foods and drinks.

Read more 
Artisanal trend fuels ingredient innovation

Artisanal trend fuels ingredient innovation

13 Sep 2018

Craft and artisanal food and drink launches have seen a global CAGR of 28% over the past five years, according to Innova Market Insights, and suppliers are responding with investment in authentic, clean label ingredients.

Read more 
Consumer concern over sugar hits new high

Consumer concern over sugar hits new high

6 Sep 2018

Sugar has replaced price as the top concern for UK consumers when buying food, according to a survey from the nation’s Food Standards Agency. Concern about sugar content is similarly high across Europe, so how should food and beverage companies respond...

Read more 
Could climate change make chocolate extinct?

Could climate change make chocolate extinct?

4 Sep 2018

Climate change poses a major threat to cocoa and chocolate production, with some researchers suggesting that cocoa could become extinct in some major producing regions within 30 years.

Read more