Miscellaneous Information

Bug Juice

We all drank it camp - but did anyone know where it got the name? At long last - the secret is revealed!

Why Do They Call Fruit Punch Bug Juice? Here's One Possibility

May 15, 1997

As a vegetarian, Lucy Peluso says she's "neurotic about reading labels." So when the 28-year-old law clerk was working late at her judge's chambers in Hauppauge, N.Y., one night last week, she checked the ingredients of her Ocean Spray Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice Drink.

Unfamiliar with the word "cochineal," she grabbed a dictionary and was horrified at the definition: "a red dye made from the dried bodies of female cochineal insects."

Her call to Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc. in Middleboro, Mass., quickly rousted a customer-relations manager, who confirmed that the color does come from an insect - albeit one approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Ms. Peluso says she still sees red when she thinks about it. She feels that vegetarians and meat-eaters alike should know about the bug. "I'm sure they don't want to eat insects," she says. "It's just not normal." Ocean Spray counters that it is quite normal.

"We use cochineal because it's natural and completely safe," says John Lawlor, a spokesman. Ocean Spray puts cochineal - or its close cousin carmine - in Strawberry and Island Guava juices.

Indeed, colors extracted from cochineal give a magenta hue to dozens of products, from aperitifs to lipsticks to pill coatings and fruit yogurt. The insect, found on cactuses in Central and South America has a brilliant history; it has made bright stripes on Mayan cloaks; Mexican serapes and early U.S. flags. The very words "crimson" and "carmine" stem from a Sanskrit term for a dye-yielding bug.

Color makers stress that the red is extracted from the bug. "Some people have the misconception that it's a ground-up insect," says Harry Meggos, vice president of technical service at Universal Foods Corp.'s Warner-Jenkinson. "You consume a molecule that gives a color."

Even so, the North American Vegetarian Society of Dolgeville, N.Y., plans to alert readers about cochineal in its next Vegetarian Voice. While it's not strictly an animal product, says co-director Brian Graff, "it's not the kind of thing you'd I expect to see in your drink."

Others are concerned for religious reasons. Susan Krasner, president of Cinema Beaute cosmetics, has put out a line of lipsticks that don't contain cochineal or her animal products forbidden by Jewish law. "Insects are not kosher," she says.

Aren't you glad you didn't know this back at camp?