Monday, April 02, 2012


The attitude some people have to eating odd things amuses me as a chemist. I call it the monchies, the idea that some things are monstrous to eat even in doses that the human organism cannot naturally detect.

Take for example the case of Starbucks and its strawberry frappés. Recently, it was leaked that the pink colour of those frappés came from cochineal, an extract from powdered beetles. This extract is converted to carmine, the aluminium or calcium salt of carminic acid, a completely natural and harmless product to the vast majority of humans (although some, as in the case of nearly everything else, might have dangerous allergic reactions).

Reality check: the deadly impurities in honey can be detected by human taste-buds. People with various sensitivities and allergies can be killed by honey. Honey is far less pure than refined cane sugar, or glucose powder. So why do we insist honey is healthier? Well, it contains trace impurities that would be useful in significant amounts (like if you consumed the whole jar of honey), and it tastes better. Honey is also less concentrated than sugar crystals (duh) being a supersaturated solution of impure sugar (which is why it can blanch or crystallize in the fridge).

Cochineal, however, has no discernible taste or effect on most humans at the concentrations used to colour food. It isn't carcinogenic, teratogenic or mutagenic. It is far less dangerous than honey. The only grouse people have is that it is a beetle product.

I have no idea why there should be biological or ethical considerations against consuming carmine. You can get it from plants and it would be chemically identical, but far more expensive. And beetles don't have the same sensations as higher organisms. They don't feel pain or suffering. They have far less awareness of life and death than lobsters (which don't have much to begin with) — as you can see from watching the many cases where adult male insects continue to fertilise their female counterparts while being eaten by them.

I'd rather eat carmine than soy products, actually. Those soy products are naturally dangerous to men, being full of hormones that make people sprout the wrong secondary sexual characteristics. OK, I'm exaggerating. But I speak nothing but truth when I say that cannabis sativa is the world's second most nutritious crop after soya beans — and what do 'civilised' societies do? They ban it.

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Blogger LoneRifle said...

So you would happily eat beetles? =)

Tuesday, April 03, 2012 8:37:00 pm  
Blogger Trebuchet said...

Betelgeuse. :D

Wednesday, April 04, 2012 5:30:00 am  
Blogger Albrecht Morningblade said...

Too bad C. sativa has more pronounced side-effects when compared to honey : )

Wednesday, April 04, 2012 1:05:00 pm  

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