“Strawberry yogurt red” could be a color that appears in clothing catalogues to label something on the border between pink and light red. But that red isn’t from the strawberries themselves, at least not in Dannon yogurt: it’s from bugs. And that’s a good thing (more on that in a bit).
The bugs—the cochineal insect—are pulverized to form the ingredient carmine (sounds innocent enough, doesn’t it), which is used to make the distinctive strawberry-colored dye. The cochineal is native to Mexico and South America, and enjoys munching on cactus. Though carmine can occasionally cause a severe allergic reaction, the FDA determined that it presents no “significant hazard” to the general population. The food industry lobbied hard to avoid including “insect-based” on ingredients lists, and the FDA eventually determined that either “carmine” or “cochineal extract” can be used.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest called on Dannon to remove carmine from its strawberry yogurt:
“Given the fact that it causes allergic reactions in some people, and that’s it easy to use safer, plant-based colors, why would Dannon use it at all?” said CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson. “Why risk offending vegetarians and grossing out your other customers?”
Allergic reactions: yes, that’s fair. If there’s any real concern with that the dye should be replaced. It is also fair that vegetarians and people who keep kosher should be warned about the bug-based ingredient. Dannon is probably going to heed these calls and switch to avoid any more trouble with this. But know this: you eat bugs. If you eat tomato sauce, peanut butter, many sauces and pureed foods, those all include bugs. The pretty tomatoes go to the grocery store, and the buggy ones get ground up for sauces. Also: insects are a good source of proteins and healthy fats. They are cheap and plentiful. Sure, they’re icky, but if you eat meat, you are eating something that went through more grossness than insects are capable of producing. Their carbon footprint is a fraction of that of meat. Insects can be fried, sugar-coated, or sautéed to be made acceptable to our taste buds if you don’t think too hard.
Dannon will likely acquiesce to our squeamishness and take the bugs out of their strawberry flavored yogurt, but it’s squeamishness we ought to get over (and this is coming from a vegetarian).