no - not a cut this time - and not from a cactus needle either. this is from "el gran cochinea" aka carmine aka cochineal - that i pulled off of a cactus in echo park.
i first encountered "el gran cochinea" in oaxaca, mexico years and years ago, and it was explained to me that this was a parasite that invaded cacti and that it could be cultivated to make coloring for make-up, paints, etc.
Months later i was back in the u.s. and reading the side of a bottle of a new (at the time) juice product called "frutopia". i noticed that one of the ingredients was something called "cochineal extract." it sounded familiar.
Having far too much time on my hands, i called the toll-free customer service telephone number listed on the label and told the poor woman on the other end of the line that I had a question about the contents of "fruitopia".
I asked "just exactly what is this cochineal extract?"
she sounded a little, not nervous, but apprehensive as she read off a typically safe and bland corporate statement about how it was a "natural FDA approved additive".
So I had to prompt her - "Yeah, but what is it? Where does it come from? Is it made in a lab? Does it somehow just occur in nature? do they mine the stuff?"
she just reread the same statement about how safe it was so i finally had to come out and say "Isn't it bug juice? Isn't cochineal extract extracted from bugs? It's bug juice, right? right? isn't it?"
poor woman. she finally went along with me and said that, while The Coca-Cola company didn't exactly see it that way, yes, she supposed, in the grand scheme of things, that cochineal extract is bug juice (and FDA approved!).
seeing a cactus like this always brings me back...
The rich red of carmine is used in a wide range of foods - from meats to sweets - as well as in cosmetics and pharmaceutical products, and world demand for this natural colouring is rising fast, by as much as 15% a year. The Canary islands, South Africa, Mexico and Chile are all
exporters of carmine but most of the world's most popular natural red comes from Peru, where it has been used since ancient times.
However, farmed cochineal contributes only a small proportion of the 850 tonnes of carmine that Peru exports each year. Most of it - as much as 85% - is still gathered from the wild prickly pear cactus - or 'tuna' as it is known locally - that grows thickly on the mountainsides in central Peru."