Red velvet cupcakes, colorful candies, and even some cosmetics and shampoos receive their rougey red tint from an unlikely source: squashed bugs. But you'll never see "insects" listed among the ingredients. These bugs, otherwise known as cochineal insects, emit a deep red ink when they're dried, smashed, and soaked in an alcohol solution. Even ancient Aztecs used the bugs to color their fabrics. Starbucks used to use this red dye in its Strawberries & Creme Frappucinos (the company no longer uses this ingredient), and some Nerds candies still contain the additive. If you wonder which foods contain this natural dye, look for the terms "cochineal extract," "carmine" or "carminic acid." Many tinted lipsticks, fruit drinks, shampoos, and gelatin contain the ingredient. While this news may sound gross -- or even alarming if you're vegan -- carmine is generally considered safer for consumption than many synthetic dyes, such as Red #40, made from coal derivatives. If the insect juice still makes you nervous, don't fear; some companies are using tomatoes, beets or purple potatoes to devise natural alternatives to bug-based red dye.
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