Halloween is candy season. Whichever treats you're sweet on, this Friday is their day. Of course, your preferred candy likely contains more than just
sugar high fructose corn syrup and chemicals; as The Washington Post reminded us this week, it's also probably full of bugs. And, that's really NBD.
In the video above (shared by The Washington Post and courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences), you can see the process by which cochineal insects are ground up to create a brilliant, red dye that's added to everything from candy to cake to strawberry yogurt for that appealing, amped-up color. And, about that shiny, waxy coating on jelly beans and candy corn? It's typically made from beetle secretions. (Chocolate, meanwhile, hosts its own share of insects; an average bar of the stuff contains eight insect fragments.)
On labels, cochineal-insect dye is called "carmine," while that beetle-secretion coating is called "shellac" — no, food manufacturers aren't required to disclose insects as an ingredient in everyday English, and for the most part, this isn't a problem. There's nothing inherently unhealthy or risky about consuming bugs. However, some people are allergic to carmine and need to read labels vigilantly in order to avoid such unsavory side effects as anaphylactic shock. (There's little evidence to support the existence of allergies to shellac in food.)
Carmine can also pose a problem for those who avoid animal ingredients (vegetarians and vegans) or who eschew certain insects to keep kosher. The thing is, it's more than just cochineal insects that make their way into our food. Maggots sneak into our canned goods, thrips (small winged parasites) into our frozen veggies, and fruit flies into our citrus juice. The FDA does regulate the amount of certain organism parts that can be present in our food, so don't worry: Your apple butter is required to contain fewer than four rodent hairs per 100 grams, while 20 is the maximum number of maggots that 100 grams of "canned and dried" mushrooms may contain.
Hey, when the alternative to these inadvertent additions can mean ungodly amounts of pesticides, a little insect protein doesn't sound so bad. In fact, we may soon be choosing bug snacks of our own free will; we hear cricket bars are taking off soon.