You probably eat bugs on a regular basis.

I hate to break it to you, but you've been eating bugs your whole life. If you recognize any of the products above, you've probably ingested cochineal, a scale insect found on cacti.

When female cochineal are crushed, they produce a blood red dye called carminic acid which is supposed to scare off predators. Different variations of the cochineal family have been exploited for their pigment for centuries, but none is as red as Mexican cochineal. After the Spanish conquered Mexico, cochineal became one of their most lucrative exports - only second to silver.

Cochineal used to be used mainly to dye textiles and make paint, but now it is a common colorant in food and makeup. You'd think that with all the technology in the world we would've found something better than bugs to use as food coloring... and we did! But it turns out that the synthetic red dyes we made were carcinogenic. So now we're back to cochineal. Some people are allergic to cochineal, so that kind of sucks, but I guess it's better than slowly killing everyone with the synthetic dyes.

Nina bought some cochineal so that I could use it for the red in my master copy. Here’s what they look like after crushing and adding a bit of water. When I start painting I'll get more into how pigments like this one are used to make paint.


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