From Cacti to Crisis: The Remarkable Saga of Red Dye Made From Bugs



Let’s dive into something you probably didn’t see coming: red dye made from bugs! Yes, you heard that right. For centuries, people have been using cochineal bugs, tiny critters that chill on prickly pear cactuses, to create this stunning red dye known as carmine.

This surprising use of insects has not only colored the fabric of history but also positioned Mexico as a powerhouse in dye production, with carmine being the country’s second most valuable export in the 17th century.

The Cool Side of Bug-Based Dye: A Healthier & Sustainable Choice

These little bugs, when processed, give us carmine and cochineal extract, and the magic ingredient here is carminic acid. This is what gives that gorgeous red hue to a bunch of stuff, from your favorite strawberry yogurt to those candies you can’t resist.

Harvesting the  Precious Carmine Powder

The process of harvesting carmine is incredibly labor-intensive, passed down through generations. Catalina Carmona degante learned it from her grandmother when she was just four years old.

A Vibrant Red Hue That Colored History

The vibrant red hue of carmine colored the very fabric of history. It illuminated medieval manuscripts, gave depth to paintings by the Old Masters, and colored the robes of royalty from the Aztecs to British monarchs.

An Uphill Battle  Against Cheaper Alternatives

While traditional artisans and chefs still seek out Carmona’s carmine, she can no longer fill large orders from international buyers. Peru now dominates over 80% of cochineal production, able to produce it more cheaply.

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