cochineal insects

Scary Facts You Learn When Becoming Vegan/Vegetarian
  • Ever wondered why most candies are so shiny? They’re often coated with shellac or E904, a sticky substance derived from secretions of the female Kerria lacca, an insect native to Thailand.
  • A round of beers may sound like the perfect way to celebrate but watch what brand you’re drinking. Some alcohol contains isinglass, a substance produced from the swim bladder of fish.
  • Natural red 4, E120, cochineal or carmine might seem harmless but this colouring (which is in a lot of foods and cosmetics) is made by boiling female cochineal insect shells in ammonia or a sodium carbonate solution. It takes 70,000 bugs to produce one pound of dye. 
  • Sometimes “natural flavouring” isn’t exactly what you had it mind. Castoreum is an FDA-approved food additive made from beaver’s anal glands and urine secretions.
  • Most of us have heard of gelatin which is in most jello, marshmallows and gummy candies. (However it can also be found in some yogurts, frosting, cream cheese, sour cream, ice-cream and other products.) But not many people realise that it is made from boiled skin, tendons and bones from cows and pigs.
  • Rennet is a popular ingredient in making dairy cheese and is even used in some soy based cheeses. It is a fluid that is extracted from the inside of a goat’s, calf’s or sheep’s stomach then used in the cheese making process. Most often a by-product of veal production.

Paints & Pigments 101

Color vocab from Victoria Finlay’s book The Brilliant History of Color.

BINDER—Material that holds pigment particles together, such as glue, oil, egg, or acrylic, enabling the creation of paint.

DYE—Colored material that dissolves in a binder; mostly used for coloring fabrics.

FUGITIVE—Adjective to describe pigment that darkens, changes color, or (especially) fades with exposure to light. 

LAKE—A type of paint made from dye by fixing it with a mordant onto a white mineral powder, such as clay, crushed bone, or salt.

MORDANT—Substance such as metals, urine, alum, or even smoke that is mixed with dyes to “fix” them (prevent them from washing out). From the Latin for “biting,” because it causes color to get its teeth into fibers and not let go!

PAINT—Pigment suspended in a binder.

PIGMENT—Colored powder that can be suspended in a binder to make paint. From the Latin pingere, meaning “to paint.”

Samples from the manuscripts conservation studio at the Getty Museum. From top: fugitive dye; cochineal insects; Brazil wood.

Cochineal Beetle

First post in a while! Sorry, but the winter here in Boston was terribly snowy and cruel and I couldn’t be bothered to post on Tumblr because I was too busy fighting off white-walkers. 

This illustration depicts someone collecting the cochineal beetle, a small insect found in Mexico that is used for its bright red dye, often in foods. For instance, it was used in Starbucks drinks–like the strawberry frappuccino–to make them an attractive red color, but had the effect of making the drink non-vegan. This caused an outcry three years ago. 

This illustration comes from 1777, by a Spanish priest and scientist Alzate y Ramírez. The man collecting the beetles is from the Mixtec nation, based in Oaxaca, Guerrero and Puebla in Mexico. The man is using a deer’s tail to brush the beetles off of a cactus. 

This is just **begging** PETA to come protest on your front steps.

The volunteer Docents want to bring live cochineal insects into the Museum on a daily basis so that they can squish them in front of patrons to demonstrate a dyeing process related to a very textile-heavy exhibition we’re having on the history of the color red. 

The head of Exhibitions, the Registrar and most of all the Collections Manager are flabbergasted that someone would suggest INTENTIONALLY bringing live insects into a gallery space.

 Apparently we need to start covering Integrated Pest Management during docent training.