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

What role do omega-3s play in sports nutrition?

What role do omega-3s play in sports nutrition?

10 Jul 2018

Omega-3 fatty acids have increasingly become part of athletes’ nutritional regime over the past few years but research supporting their role in sports nutrition is still in its early stages.

Read more 
Could nature-identical ingredients damage the natural sweeteners market?

Could nature-identical ingredients damage the natural sweeteners market?

4 Jul 2018

Natural sweeteners are a major target for companies looking to make nature-identical food ingredients, but if they are produced in a lab rather than extracted from a plant, will consumers accept them as natural?

Read more 
How does honey compare to sugar?

How does honey compare to sugar?

27 Jun 2018

Sugar use is down and honey use is up as manufacturers look for natural sweetening alternatives – but does honey live up to the hype?

Read more 
Fruit and vegetable powders add clean label nutrition, colour and flavour

Fruit and vegetable powders add clean label nutrition, colour and flavour

25 Jun 2018

Fruit and vegetable powders are appearing in a range of foods and drinks to improve their flavour, colour, nutrition and texture, driven by the trend toward whole foods and consumer desire to boost fruit and vegetable consumption.

Read more 
What are the smartest botanical ingredients for brain health?

What are the smartest botanical ingredients for brain health?

20 Jun 2018

As the population ages, botanical ingredients to maintain and improve cognitive health are on the rise. What are they, and what evidence is there to support their claims?

Read more 
Turning a spotlight on healthy fats and oils

Turning a spotlight on healthy fats and oils

19 Jun 2018

European food manufacturers have been turning to healthier oils and fats – but there is often a trade-off to be made, balancing their benefits in terms of flavour and health with how easy they are to work with.

Read more 
Beyond ingredients: Food processing as a tool for cleaner labels

Beyond ingredients: Food processing as a tool for cleaner labels

12 Jun 2018

Ingredients come first when companies think about developing clean label foods and drinks, but certain processing technologies also should be considered part of the clean label toolbox.

Read more 
Plant-based eating boosts European walnut demand

Plant-based eating boosts European walnut demand

12 Jun 2018

The current trend toward plant-based diets and wholesome, natural ingredients has led to increased European demand for walnuts, as consumers have become more aware of their health benefits.

Read more 
Europeans embrace a new wave of seaweed ingredients

Europeans embrace a new wave of seaweed ingredients

6 Jun 2018

Seaweed ingredients are on the rise, set to appear in a wide range of new products in Europe in the coming years – far beyond the traditional sushi and miso soup.

Read more 
How clean label ingredients affect packaging

How clean label ingredients affect packaging

28 May 2018

When companies consider ‘cleaning up’ their product labels, they often focus primarily on how to remove or replace certain ingredients – but they should also consider implications for product packaging.

Read more