Don't freak out, but FYI: You're eating bugs

Red food dye is bugs
Red food dye is bugsImage Source/Getty Images / Today

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By Alesandra Dubin

This is not going to be one of those controversial fear-mongering food exposés, but we just thought there's something you ought to know: You're eating bugs.

Much red food coloring, known as carmine or cochineal, is made from a white insect that exudes a bright red color when it is crushed. This is not news, though: It's been used for hundreds of years. In other words, you've totally eaten it—and that may be news to you.

Grossed out? Think of it this way: Bugs are all natural. (And the dye is F.D.A. approved.) Specifically, it's bugs called cochineal that are used in the dyes.

Natural, yes, but the ingredient isn't strictly vegan, kosher, or halal, points out Doug Lynch, a vice president for the fruit-based alternative red dye, LycoRed. And vegan cookbook author Vicki Chelf notes that the discovery might enrage some consumers (maybe even you). “It might be all natural. But just imagine all the health-conscious people reading that on their food labels," she says. "They have no idea it means bugs. They’re going to be outraged.”

And people are starting to catch on. After backlash from some Starbucks consumers, the coffee purveyor announced it would pull the ingredient from its Strawberries & Crème Frappuccino last year—a semi-scandal that is among the news stories drawing more attention to the bug-based dye.

But it's still widely circulating in some versions of foods you're probably eating, like:

  • yogurt
  • fruit juice 
  • ice cream
  • jelly
  • hot dogs
  • … and tons of other processed foods.

So maybe you already knew you what was in red dye. But tell us: Are you shocked to learn you're eating bugs?

Alesandra Dubin is a Los Angeles-based writer and the founder of home and travel blog Homebody in Motion. Follow her on Google+ and Twitter.

A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.