Okay, yes, everybody — especially vegans, corporation-haters, and bloggers who like writing about gross things you just put in your mouth — got a little excited over the news that Starbucks’ Strawberries & Creme Frappuccino derives its red color from crushed bugs. But here’s what you didn’t know: That’s actually a good thing.
As the aptly-named Bug Girl pointed out on Skepchick, bug-derived red dyes (cochineal, which is the stuff in the Starbucks drink, and carmine) are at least made out of something that’s technically edible. Lots of folks eat bugs — people in most developing countries, bikers who encounter gnat clouds, Anthony Bourdain. But almost nobody thinks coal tar or petroleum are foods, and it turns out that’s the other available option.
The alternative to using cochineal is mostly Red 40, which is made from coal tar.
No, seriously. It’s made from coal tar.
Or it used to be; looks like it’s mostly made from petroleum these days. So, you can see why Starbucks might be looking for an alternative to an artificial dye.
Of course, Starbucks could theoretically use ACTUAL STRAWBERRIES. But that is madness! (And doesn’t actually work with frozen strawberries — they don’t come out red enough — so it’s not really feasible on a large scale. Maybe the problem is large-scale corporate coffee in general.)
Furthermore, cochineal is sustainably sourced and brings income to the rural populations that produce it:
Cochineal has been used by humans for hundreds of years, and provides an important source of cash for a lot of rural Central and South American people. There is some evidence the culture and sale of cochineal leads to more independence and higher female literacy in Mexico. It’s entirely consistent with Starbucks’ policy to sustainably source their products to use a natural product like cochineal.
Also, get off your high horse, you’re drinking something called “creme” and that’s not even a food:
I am a bit puzzled that people who willingly eat something called a Soy Strawberry Frappuccino, or [*shudder*] a Starbucks “Red Velvet Whoopie Moon Pie,” are concerned about a tiny amount of insect extract.
In other words, shut up and drink your bug juice. It’s probably the most natural thing in your Frappuccino, and it definitely beats the petroleum-based alternative.
Waiter, There's A Bug In My Frappuccino, Skepchick.