In fact, that very coloration derives from the usage of a cochineal extract—a dye produced through the crushing of the bodies of dried cochineal bugs.
A barista writing on thisdishisvegetarian.com apparently tipped off customers to this latest ingredient discovery.
“My guess would be that the recipe changed about three or four weeks ago, when our strawberry sauce got new packaging,” the barista wrote on the website. “I was hoping you guys could help get the word out there so that no vegans end up drinking this formerly vegan Frappucino by mistake!”
Vegans are not the only individuals to have responded fiercely to news of the mysterious ingredient. After news of the report spread, many began researching the history of the bug extract and the health detriments associated with consumption of the ingredient. According to the World Health Organization, there have been instances wherein the extract has led to an allergic reaction or asthma. But generally, the ingredient is sanctioned by the Food and Drug Administration. It can be found in a wide range of foods, including various meats, cheeses, marinades, drinks, and bakery products.
Apparently, the move by Starbucks to use the extract was made as part of the chain’s efforts to make their products as natural as possible.
“At Starbucks, we strive to carry products that meet a variety of dietary lifestyles and needs,” Starbucks said in a statement. “We also have the goal to minimize artificial ingredients in our products. While the strawberry base isn’t a vegan product, it helps us move away from artificial dyes.”
“Many Starbucks ingredients can be combined to create a beverage free from animal-derived products; however, we are unable to guarantee this due to the potential cross-contamination with other animal-derived products in our retail locations,” the statement added.
According to an ABC News report, the cochineal bugs can be largely found in areas in Mexico and South America. It has a rich history as a dye, with records indicating its usage as early as the fifteenth century, sources say.
And the ingredient is generally not certified as kosher.
“Cochineal or Carmine is a natural red colorant extracted from the dried bodies of the coccus cacti insect which produces a highly stable natural red dye,” Rabbi Tzvi Rosen, Star-K Kashrus administrator and editor of Kashrus Kurrents, writes in an article entitled “The Secret Ingredient”. “Major Kashrus agencies do not consider cochineal or carmine as a kosher colorant.”