It takes a gifted artist to become a great teacher and those who dare to teach never cease to learn.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Color from a bug: cochineal bug, the ancient source of carmine

(after grinding the cochineal bugs and mixing the powder with water you'll get the carmine color)
In last night's Café Botanique David Pyle gave a vivid presentation about colors. We also got to see how carmine red color was extracted from the Cochineal bugs. These insects live and feed naturally on Opuntia cactus in Mesoamerica and the Andean area. The color extracted mainly from the female bugs (the bright red color comes from the wings of the female bug) was used as a dye by Aztecs and Mayans in Central America for centuries. The cochineal bug was most likely cultivated already by the Toltec period on the 10th century. This precious bug was described and Classified already by Linnaeus 1758 as Coccus cacti, later on the bug was named to Dactylopius coccus.
Read more about the bug here, or the process to extract the dye here. FDA has also recently launched new labeling rules for the cochineal bug coloring. Very recently a scientific paper was published by Chavez-Moreno et al. dealing with the historical perspective of use, interaction and distribution. You can read it by clicking here.
[Oaxaca textiles at the market in San Miguel de Allende, GTO; the red color is extracted from the cochineal bugs (Dactylopius coccus)]
(Many books about color has been published during the years, one of the best ones is COLOR - A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay).

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