18 February 2010

what is cochineal?

Cochineal is a small, fluffy, white scale insect that inhabits prickly pear cactus. And it is notoriously hard to research on the internet. That said, there's an absolutely amazing post at Bug Girl's Blog. Here are some snippets...

So much misinformation is being published right now about Cochineal, I thought a post that explains what it is, how it’s made, why it’s relatively harmless, and why I support labeling but oppose a ban, might be useful.

Cochineal supports subsistence farmers in poor parts of the world. This insect is an important cash crop! From an NPR story about cochineal:

“Even though a full pound of cochineal sells for just $1.30, harvesting the bug earns enough money to feed and clothe a whole family in the impoverished highlands region of Peru. An estimated 40,000 Peruvian families depend on harvesting the bugs — which belong to a class of scale insects — to make a living.”

By not rejecting cochineal in your food or makeup, you get to not only support farmers raising their tiny pink cash-cows, you can connect with the rich history of this pigment.

Now, go forth and read the whole NPR story and definitely read the whole post on Bug Girl's Blog. You owe it to yourself!

Full disclosure: I'm posting this in hopes that it will help Bug Girl's information reach more people who search for Cochineal.

Originally uploaded by Carolina Gonzalez

Here's the caption from the Cochineal photo above:

This is the cochineal we wildharvested a week ago in the Anaga mountains, cleaned and ready for the oven – I was going to make a cake, so I wanted to use the after-baking heat of the oven to dry it – talk about saving energy! Cochineal makes one of the most ancient fiber dyes in history, carmine, and it has been a huge tradition in the Canary Islands for many centuries, as nopales are one of the most common cacti here. The insect is collected from the nopales after its reproductive stage with big wooden spoons, cleaned (they grow a white “foam” around them to protect the egg lays) and dried, both with oven heat and later by the action of the sun. Once completely dry, it is powdered and simply added to water, as it is water soluble. Once we start the dyeing experiments I’ll talk more about this process – and don’t worry vegetarians, this insect is collected dead :)

Doesn't seem so bad at all! ...and look where else it's found:
Sobe Tsunami Orange Creme

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