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Yogurt company Dannon has come under fire recently for the most obscure of reasons. The company’s Fruit on the Bottom label has several products that include an ingredient called carmine that helps to give the yogurt its color. What many people may not know is that carmine is created from insects that yield a pinkish red color after being processed.
The process to get from bugs to food coloring is pretty disgusting. To create a batch, somewhere in the universe 40,000 cochineal bugs are collected. The dead insects are then dried out. Once the drying has been accomplished, the scales are then boiled in water to achieve the appropriate colors in our yogurt. Yum.
I’ve been pretty mean to the Fruit on the Bottom label so far, but the strawberry, cherry, boysenberry and raspberry Fruit on the Bottom flavors aren’t the only ones that have been affected by the bug scale coloring. According to Fox News, a few of the products in the Activa line, the Oikos line of Greek yogurt products, and even the Light and Fit products use the dye. The yogurt’s geared toward kids are unaffected.
Sometimes additives in food can be controversial for some consumers. A prime example of this is the couple of moms who recently tried to get the yellow dye cut out of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. Like yellow dye, carmine is known to cause allergic reactions in a small number of people consuming the product. Unlike yellow dye, no studies have been done linking carmine to cancer.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says that putting carmine into products without telling people is misleading. The group has set up an online petition over at Take Part asking Dannon to replace the bug dye with plant-based coloring.
Luckily, if you aren’t grossed out by the ingredient, there's a pretty high chance it's not going to hurt you, and it’s no weirder or worse for you than most additives in food. Plus, it could very well become trendy to eat bugs over the next few years, so if you do like the yogurt, consider yourself ahead of the curve, fighting against global warming one meal(worm) at a time. An added bonus: if you are a fan of Dannon’s strawberry-flavored yogurt, you can keep on eating the stuff and totally feel a little like Simba every time you do so.
It is a little weird that Dannon would choose to color its yogurt that already has fruit in it with insect coloring rather than with the actual colors of the fruits involved. However, this likely stems back to a cost issue for the company. It’s probably cheaper to feed us insects than real fruit coloring. So far, Dannon hasn’t spoken out to discuss the carmine thing, likely hoping this news story will go away. I say hakuna matata.