Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday Stills: Signs of Fall



Living so close to Mexico as I do, we won't be seeing too many signs of fall until October or even November. Mostly we are feeling the signs of fall. After an abnormally hot summer, with three entire months of temperatures between 103-110, having 80 degrees at noon feels rather pleasant!

So instead, I will show you some signs of September color where I live. Your life has probably been touched by this stuff, and you never knew about it. This is the time of year that the female Cochineal insect (Dactylopius coccus) lays a white fluffy substance containing larvae on the pads of our Prickly Pear  Cactus (Opuntia sp.).



When this white fluff is collected...



...and crushed...



...it produces a natural red dye that is more stable than synthetic colors. The Cochineal is native to South America and Mexico (and obviously this part of Texas which once belonged to Mexico). Cochineal dye was used by the Aztecs and Mayas, and once was the second largest commodity after silver exported from Mexico. The Navajos still use it to dye wool red for their rugs.



After the Spanish conquest, it was exported to Europe, and even was so valuable as to be quoted regularly on the London and Amsterdam Commodities Exchange.

England, wanting to control their own source for the coloring, transplanted it from Brazil to Australia in 1787. Can you guess the use for which the British wanted it?

That's right...there would have been no Red Coats without this little insect and its white fluff.



Chances are very high that you've worn and consumed this insect in your daily life! It is currently used in both the food and cosmetic industry. You'll see it listed as carminic acid, red color E120, and carmine. It's found in alcohol and soft drinks, meats, cheeses, pastries, jams, lipstick, blush, face powder, eyeshadow, hair coloring, oil paint, water colors just to name a few.

Each year people consume an estimated 1-2 drops with their food. This could be of concern if you are vegetarian, vegan, Jewish, or Muslim. Don't like the idea of consuming crushed insect larvae? A new U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulation will require all foods and cosmetics containing cochineal to declare it on their ingredient labels as of January 5, 2011. Still, with cochineal red being one of the safest colorants, I kind of doubt there will be much information letting people know its source.

For some classic signs of fall, visit Sunday Stills!

18 comments:

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Yummo! Bring on the buggos! lol! Very informative post today. Nice!
Cool pics, too.
I've not seen any of that white fluff on our prickly pears yet. If I do I may harvest some to dye my wool. I wonder how much it would take to give the wool a nice deep red?
80 degrees at noon, eh? We're in the 70's during the day, but down into the 20's to 30s at night.
And everyone seems to have the impression of New Mexico as being so hot and dry all year. lol!


~Lisa

VioletSky said...

I had no idea!!
Oh dear - to consider 80 cool...
Very interesting post.

Ed said...

COOL POST! I love it when you learn something new, and I try to everyday, thanks..ED :-))

Rebekah said...

While working with the kids' camp during the summer, we took a field trip into a nearby preserve. The guide pointed out the white fluffy stuff and crushed it to show us. However, as she pointed out, the buggies certainly don't hurt us, we consume them in a lot of stuff, and the companies that are changing from using them are going to using chemicals. Now if I had my choice, I would certainly choose this harmless little part of God's creation over some chemicals. Thanks for informing us! :)

Mellimaus said...

WOW, that's really interesting, I've never heard of that! SO cool, and cool photos, too! :)

WildBlack said...

Great Info Sage! Thanks a lot. I do enjoy reading your posts, mails and comments. Very informative and easy to read! Great post :D

marleen said...

Very interesting post about this useful insect! Never knew this before so thanks!(and for your visit:-)

Ebie said...

Such an informative post and your shots are great. I did not try to prick those prickly pears. You and me both, we are also in th 100's this week.
It does not even feel like Fall here.

thecrazysheeplady said...

Wow! Great post. I had no idea...and of all people, I should have, eh? Thanks!

Quinn said...

What an educational post- I'm going to leave it up for my boy in the morning. He probably already knows though- but you never know.

Thanks for sharing!

allhorsestuff said...

Ooouwee..interesting and icky too!
Love the info!
And I love RED...I will remember this.
Yea, fall does not mean too much with the temps there and maybe no color changes to notice.

My freind just moved-2-day to "Rockwall" Texas. He NEEDS friends..bet you aren't close to that huh?
KK

moresecretwhispers said...

looks lik blood! eeeek
:)

Steffie said...

What in interesting story. Amazing that a bit of white fluff can produce such a colour. I will think of this whenever I eat something red in future ;-)

threecollie said...

That is so amazingly interesting! Wow! Thanks!

Kateri said...

That is so fascinating! I would much rather color food with an insect then chemicals myself.

Life at Star's Rest said...

I used to be a silk painter and loved playing with natural dyes. Thanks for the reminder! Carmon

Far Side of Fifty said...

Very interesting post, I really enjoyed it. I am like Ed, I like to learn something new everyday! :)

EarthNSky said...

That is so cool Sage. Thanks for sharing your knowledge! I'll be checking my prickly pears tomorrow!

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