Yesterday Fergus Fitzgerald, Head Brewer for Adnams, told deBugged about his plight to keep pigeons, cockroaches and bats out of his vats. But there are some food and beverage manufacturers who like to include insects in their products.
It’s not a particularly pleasant thought, but you might have consumed beetles without even realising. If you ever come across a pink, purple or red soft drink, chances are it contains carmine, also called cochineal, which is a colouring ingredient made from crushed beetles. Various brands of grapefruit, strawberry, pomegranate or cranberry juices also contain the ingredient. If you’re curious, check the label for any mention of carmine, cochineal or E120.
The insects belong to the family dactylopiidae, a group of scale insects. Scale insects are serious pests of cultivated plants, particularly fruit trees, shrubs and greenhouse plants. The cultivation of cochineal was a multi-million pound industry in South America and a well protected secret by the Spanish for decades. Until other methods of producing red dye were invented the Spanish held a monopoly on the colour red in the 19th century. Today carmine is favoured by manufacturers because it hits the buzz words of being natural, organic and it’s heat stable.
You could possibly have eaten a cockroach or part of a rat in a bar of chocolate. The FDA details some curious statistics concerning the amount of insect and rodent filth permissible within food manufacturing. This is an extract on the guideline for chocolate:
- Average is 60 or more insect fragments per 100 grams in six 100-gram subsamples
- Rodent filth average is one or more rodent hairs per 100 grams in six 100-gram subsamples
The FDA claims that “these levels of natural or unavoidable defects in foods that present no health hazards for humans.” I can eat my own body weight in chocolate and can confirm that I have suffered no ill side effects. Maybe eating bugs is just not bad after all, and if they are covered in chocolate I would probably eat them.