Some food colorings come from beetles

Some food colorings come from beetles

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Q: Is it true that food colorants cochineal and carmine are made from ground beetles? Are there other names for the same type of coloring? Is this toxic to humans?

A: Cochineal and carmine, also known as carminic acid, are derived from the crushed carcasses of the female dactylopius coccus, a beetle that inhabits a type of cactus in Central and South America.

These colorants are used today to color candies, fruit juices, gelatins, jams, yogurts, milk, sausage, marinades, sauces, cola drinks, popsicles, cosmetics and shampoos.

While some food labels may list the coloring as cochineal or carmine, these ingredients are also known as red No. 4, natural red, E120, carminic acid and crimson lake so it is important to know all of these colorings.

Some individuals are sensitive to food colorings, natural or otherwise, so it is important to be diligent in reading food labels, since these color additives may cause asthma, upper respiratory distress or even anaphylactic shock. It takes 155,000 beetles to make about two pounds of cochineal.

Q: I cook a lot with butter and wonder if it makes a difference if it is salted or unsalted. Also, what causes butter to burn so quickly? Is there anything I can do to stop the scorching?

A: If you purchase the “salted” butter, it can contain anywhere from 1.5 percent to 1.3 percent salt content. This can play havoc with certain recipes unless you are aware of the actual salt content of a particular butter and how the level of salt in that butter will react with your recipe. It is usually easier to use “unsalted” butter and add your sea salt or lite salt.

When butter is heated, the protein goes through a change, and causes the butter to burn and scorch easily. A small amount of pure olive oil (NOT extra virgin oil since that type of oil is not to be heated) will slow down the process down.

If clarified butter is used, butter in which the protein has been removed, you can fry or sauté with it and it will last for a longer period of time than standard butter.

However, clarified butter will not give your foods that real, rich butter flavor. An interesting note about butter-if you are heating milk in a pot spread a very thin layer of unsalted butter on the bottom of the pot to prevent the milk from sticking. If you use salted butter-this will not work.

Phylis B. Canion is a doctor of naturopathic medicine and is a certified nutritional consultant, e-mail her at This column is for nutritional information only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure.


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