September 23, 2011

Red: The Aztecs and a Tiny Beetle

In ancient times, the Aztec people discovered a powerful red pigment from of all things– a tiny female cochineal beetle that lives on cactus leaves. Soon after the Spanish arrived in the Americas, they began exporting the scarlet red pigment to Europe and it became one of the most valued exports following gold and silver. (At that time, red pigment was difficult to come by in Europe.) 
This beautiful scarlet red pigment from the cochineal beetle is still used today in Mexican folk arts and crafts as well as dye used to color a small amount of our fabrics, cosmetics, candy and food in the United States. (Look for it on labels under the names: carmine, cochineal or E120.)

“Arizona Wild Flowers,” 
Colors of the World, The Geography of Color by Jean-Philippe Lenclos and Dominique Lenclos. W.W. Norton & Co. (Library call number 729.4 LEN or online.) 
The Color Compendium by Augustine Hope and Margaret Walch. Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York. (Library call number 701.85 or online.)  
“Insects Used for Red Food Coloring” By Beth Taylor,

1 comment:

Isobel said...

Now those facts are fascinating! Thank you for the info. Remember cochineal when I was in the habit of baking cookies for my young daughters - now long flown the nest. Husband and I don't now indulge, as it's not good for either of us!

Will be following you as a result of your post on the Etsy forum requesting our contact details. I think I posted early on, but am not too good at keeping up with the teams - too busy with my blog ( and presently creating some novelties for the holiday season in time for a charity bazaar on Sept.30 to be included in my shop at However, if you'd like to follow me on the blog, I'd be most grateful - you could be Follower No. 50 and in line for a 20% on any one item in the shop, if you'd like one! Cheers.

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comment!