Vegetarians beware: Starbucks admits to using beetle extract in popular drink coloring

Friday, March 30, 2012 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: Starbucks, cochineal extract, food color

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(NaturalNews) For being a multinational corporate food and beverage giant, Starbucks has actually been among the most proactive in ridding its offerings of toxic additives and artificial colors, and switching to natural alternatives. But the company's recent decision to change its Strawberries & Creme Frappuccino blended beverage formula has the vegan community in an uproar, as ground-up beetles now constitute part of the drink's natural coloring components.

According to reports, Starbucks switched its formula back in January, replacing a formerly-vegan coloring agent with the beetle-derived agent. And a vegan Starbucks barista reportedly captured a photo of the beverage's ingredients list recently, which is not posted on the Starbucks corporate website, and sent it to, a vegan news blog devoted to animal rights issues.

You can view a picture of the Strawberries & Creme Frappuccino ingredients list at:

The ingredient in question is cochineal extract, which is made from the ground-up bodies of cochineal beetles. This primarily South American and Mexican insect naturally produces a substance known as carminic acid that can be extracted, mixed with either aluminum or calcium salts, and turned into carmine dye.

Even though carmine extract is technically considered to be natural, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that the additive must be properly labeled on foods, a mandate that went into effect in early 2011. Prior to that ruling, cochineal extract and other bug-derived additives had to be labeled as either "artificial colors" or "color added," according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Vegans have long enjoyed Strawberries & Creme Frappuccinos precisely because they have always contained only vegan ingredients, which is why there is currently a groundswell of customer backlash. Starbucks says it made the switch as part of ongoing efforts to make its food and beverages healthier, but in the process, it failed to properly disclose this information to the public.

Daelyn Fortney, co-founder of, is now pushing for Starbucks to revert back to vegan natural colorings like red beet, black carrots, or purple sweet potatoes, which are commonly used to create red colors in natural foods. Going one step further than this, Michael Jacobson, Executive Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), says Starbucks should just use strawberries to color its strawberry beverages.

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