Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Barrista! There are bugs in my vegan smoothie!"

At least they spelled "flavour" the proper way.

I don't know why vegans even bother with fast food. Remember when everyone was outraged by beef tallow in McDonald's fries? More recently, there was concern over hidden bacon in Chipotle's pinto beans.

Part of the problem is that there are two divergent customer demands: on one hand, people want junk food made with as many "natural" ingredients as possible; on the other are personal food restrictions based on religion, philosophy or allergy.

The latest big brand to be torn by this tension is Starbucks.

Via Tumblr

Jezebel explains that after "customers insisted that Starbucks start to use natural ingredients whenever possible," the coffee chain started using cochineal extract instead of chemical dye to make its strawberry soy smoothies pinker. (They also add lycopene, the pigment from tomatoes.)

Cochineal extract is certainly natural. To make it, you grind up a bunch of these guys:

Via this blog
The resulting pigment, known as carmine, has many industrial uses. And it's common in food.

Wikipedia says:

"Carmine is used as a food dye in many different products such as juices, ice cream, yogurt, and candy, and as a dye in cosmetic products such as eyeshadow and lipstick. Although principally a red dye, it is found in many foods that are shades of red, pink, and purple. As a food dye it has been known to cause severe allergic reactions and anaphylactic shock in some people. 
Food products containing carmine-based dye may be a concern for people allergic to carmine, or people choosing not to consume any or certain animals, such as vegetarians, vegans, and followers of religions with dietary law (e.g., kashrut in Judaism and halaal in Islam)."

The true nature of the ingredient went viral in the veggie community when a vegan Starbucks employee leaked it to This Dish is Veg. There was soon a petition up at which so far has 2,427 signatures.

Starbucks isn't budging yet, though. Corporate spokesman Jim Olson told, “We certainly respect and understand the interest this is getting, but it is a very common ingredient in foods and juices and beverages.”

There's actually a very simple solution to this problem: leave out the dye, and expect customers to accept a paler pink smoothie. Hell, I make my own for breakfast all the time. Strawberries add their own "natural" colour. It just isn't the bright pink that people seem to think they want.

Do you think that such a thing is possible?


  1. I won't drink the smoothie until it's nuclear pink. Might need to grind up some people for that one. Starbucks you have failed me.

    1. Just wait until I blog about the Soylent Green in Shamrock Shakes...

  2. Pinker? Who the heck came up with that idea ... some marketing genius? Get real. Use real berries ... or ... just do what Marco suggests.