Starbucks announced on April 19, 2012 that they are going to phase out the use of “natural cochineal extract” in their products. That is a colorant made from ground up insects. It’s used in Strawberries & Crème Frappuccino®, Strawberry Banana Smoothie, Raspberry Swirl Cake, Birthday Cake Pop, Mini Donut with pink icing, and Red Velvet Whoopie Pie.
The company is going to use lycopene, the nutrient that makes tomatoes red, in their beverages, and will use another as yet unspecified ingredient in the baked products.
Food Poisoning Bulletin talked to Dr. Ted Labuza of the Food Science and Nutrition Department at the University of Minnesota about this issue. He said, “the pigment is extracted from the insect’s exoskeleton. It’s used in food products because it’s a water-stable red. This is a natural component that’s extracted out. And it’s not dangerous.”
Cochineal dye was used by the Aztec and Mayans in north and Central America. When artificial dyes were discovered in the 1800s, demand for the natural coloring fell. The red color comes from carminic acid. It’s called “carmine”, “cochineal extract”, “natural red 4”, “natural colouring” and “crimson lake” on food labels.
The FDA strictly regulates food colorings as additives. The Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act of 1938 mandated that color additives be put on all food labels.
Domestic and foreign manufacturers of artificial colorings are required to register with the FDA. Color additives that are synthetic organic dyes, lakes, or pigments must go through batch certification, with each batch individually tested, to prove they are safe before they are used in food. Color additives exempt from certification include those derived from plant or mineral sources, such as cochineal extract.
There are studies that link artificial dyes to possible hyperactivity in children. In 2008, the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the FDA to ban Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Orange B, Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 that were linked to behavior problems.
But in 2011, the FDA’s Food Advisory Committee concluded that although children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder may be affected by synthetic color additives, there was no risk to children without the disorder or the general public.
But cochineal extract is objectionable to vegan customers. Starbucks was trying to avoid “artificial ingredients” and started using cochineal extract in January 2012.