That nice strawberry yogurt you just had, didn’t it have a nice reddish color? That likely wasn’t due to the huge amounts of strawberries in it, but to a nice helping of bugs.
How The Yogurt Got Pink
When you buy a strawberry yogurt, you kinda expect it to be pink in color, don’t you? But strawberries are expensive, so producers use a trick to get the color without as many strawberries.
That trick are thousands of little bugs called “cochineals,” which are killed, dried, ground up and then put into the yogurt:
So on ingredient lists the cochineals of course aren’t stated as “ground up bugs,” but as “carmine,” “natural red 4” or “E120.” Which of course sounds much more, uh, neutral.
Uuh, Eek, Bah!
It does sound gross, doesn’t it? But the practice has been around for centuries, side effects are much fewer than for artificial coloring, and despite the Centers for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) now calling out Dannon about it, Starbucks and many others do it too.
No, using bugs as a food ingredient isn’t the real problem here. Because once you get over the “disgusting!” factor, the real kicker is that this practice is essentially cheating consumers. One might say it is ok to put in a little more color via the cochineals, but usually they are almost entirely responsible for it (of course aided by “natural flavoring” that doesn’t have anything to do with strawberries either).
I just looked at a 150 g strawberry yogurt and on the list of ingredients the strawberries are stated as “1.5% strawberries.” 1.5% of 150 g is 2.25 g and, as the average strawberry weighs ~23 g, that means you about get 1/10th of a whole strawberry. That puts the whole bunches of strawberries on labels in a completely different light, doesn’t it?
Make Your Own
There is a simple cure for this that actually can let you save money as well: make your own. Buy plain yogurt and strawberries, cut them up and mix them into the yogurt. Alternatively, via a blender you can make puree out of the strawberries and then mix that into the yogurt. That way the yogurt gets a smoother texture and is pink – from for-real, actual strawberries.
Picture courtesy of “Janine“.