Strawberry Frappuccinos are a summertime favorite at Starbucks (SBUX). Too bad word's out that the lovely strawberry color is actually derived from "cochineal extract" -- dried, crushed bug carcasses. Talk about a buzzkill.
A Change.org petition has helped spread the word that cochineal extract poses a major problem for vegans, since consuming crushed bugs certainly doesn't adhere to the vegan diet.
Starbucks has owned up to the whole "Barista, there's a bug in my frappuccino" brouhaha, defending cochineal extract as a natural ingredient. According to Gannett News Service, Starbucks spokesman Jim Olson said, "... the strawberry base for our Strawberries & Creme Frappuccino does contain cochineal extract, a common natural dye that is used in the food industry, and it helps us move away from artificial ingredients."
That's definitely not Red Dye No. 40, but it's not vegan, either. Even if they're not strict vegans, many consumers might find this coloring method just plain disgusting.
The Change.org petition beseeches Starbucks to consider other methods to color the drink without using artificial dyes, such as beets or paprika.
It's an Infestation!
Although Starbucks is taking the heat right now for using cochineal extract, the company is hardly the only one that uses the substance.
Cochineal extract is a popular dye for fabrics, and it can also be found in wine, lipstick, yogurt, candy, and all kinds of other popular products.
This latest alarm sounding about unappetizing ingredients in our foods follows hard on the heels of the uproar over ammonia-treated "pink slime" in hamburger patties. But that's more than an aesthetic issue: As unpleasant as the ammonia component is, it's not as bad the E. coli pathogen that the ammonia is meant to kill.
And whenever people start thinking seriously about vegetarianism (or keeping Kosher, for that matter), they began discovering that the most seemingly innocuous products might include meat by-products. For example, gelatin includes collagen from animal skin and bones. If you think saying "There's never room for Jell-O" is enough, think again: Gelatin is in all kinds of confections, like marshmallow Peeps and gummy bears.
Bigger Things Should Bug Us
Starbucks is fielding criticism for the cochineal extract, but this buggy buzz may indicate a bigger flap beyond fraps: Our food supply includes a lot of unsightly and unappetizing ingredients, even if they're not deemed harmful by the FDA.
Maybe the real point here is that it's good to increase awareness of some of the weird ingredients used in our foods and other products, and make more informed choices when we're out and about.
Motley Fool analyst Alyce Lomax owns shares of Starbucks. The Motley Fool owns shares of Starbucks. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Starbucks as well as writing covered calls on Starbucks.
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