Gallery: Starbucks Admits Its Strawberry Drinks Are Colored with Crushe...


Starbucks recently found itself in hot water when news that the red dyes used in their strawberry drinks contained cochineal, a coloring made from crushed parasitic beetles. The ingredient has turned more than a few stomachs as it’s unfriendly to vegetarian customers, carries a few negative health impacts of its own, and ranks incredibly high on the “eww” factor scale. Starbucks’ Strawberries and Creme Blended Drinks and Strawberry Smoothies were cheerfully touted as vegan in the past — if one opts for them to be made with soy milk — but their “natural” dyes will now cause many to reconsider.

Cochineal dye is produced from dried female cochineal beetles, and PETA estimates that it takes somewhere in the region of 70,000 beetles to produce one pound of the red dye. The dye has been used for centuries, and can be traced back to Aztec and Mayan populations of Central and South America. In present day usage, the pigment shows up in everything from cosmetics to pop tarts. But cochineal and its cousin, carmine, are skin and respiratory irritants — studies have traced a link between the dye and asthmatic attacks and anaphylactic shock in factory workers exposed to the substance.

Since January 2011, the FDA has required cochineal and carmine to be prominently listed on food and cosmetics labels, which is how one vegan Starbucks employee was able to send a tip to This Dish is Veg when she noticed that their strawberry concentrate packaging changed and so too did a vital ingredient.

Starbucks spokesperson Jim Olsen emphasized, “the strawberry base for our Strawberries & Creme Frappuccino does contain cochineal extract, a common natural dye that is used in the food industry, and it helps us move away from artificial ingredients,” later adding “We certainly respect and understand the interest this is getting, but it is a very common ingredient in foods and juices and beverages,” and that the company has no plans to change the ingredient.

In the meantime, a petition has sprouted up at to try to convince Starbucks to reconsider the crushed beetle beverage addition, with the recommendation that “While it’s commendable to move away from artificial ingredients, there are other natural means to achieve the red coloring. Red beet, black carrot, purple sweet potato and paprika are all-natural alternatives to artificial dyes and safe for those with dietary restrictions. (And those who don’t want crushed bugs in their designer drink.)”

+ Petition at

Via Mother Nature Network

Lead Image by Schtumple on Flickr, Female Cochineal Beetle by Vahe Martirosyan on Wikimedia


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  1. Stacks August 25, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    Actually Carsh, insects ARE animals. They most certainly do not fall under the same category as viruses and the like, those are in a different kingdom all together.

  2. carsh April 9, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    Bugs are NOT animals…they are INSECTS…so chances are many are ingested by Vegans and Vegetarians alike as plants, foods, ANYTHING are rampant with ewwweee! BUGS…lol…and germs…and protozoa..and viruses..and mites…

  3. starbucks regular April 3, 2012 at 9:13 am

    they should take the same stance as burger king want it your way..

    lets see

    customer asks for strawberrys and cream drink
    starbucks staff response should be honest and say you can have it natural but it will be pink instead of red.

    or we can put crushed beatles in your drink to make it red ..

    I wonder how many people will want it naturally pink.

  4. nhitt April 1, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    I see this time and time again, I believe the product developers have a good intent, but in practice they see that it doesn’t look that great. “Would a consumer drink a strawberry-flavoured drink if it was slightly pink rather than red?” The answer is yes, but not 100% (of those whom’d consider it). Therefore, Starbucks seems to attain 100% consumer confidence level by having an actual “red” strawberry beverage. I see this in canned fruit from Dole and Del Monte and off-store brands. When cherries are part of the fruit medley, they look the red colour. Both companies add an artificial colouring to the cherries to ascertain consumer confidence.

  5. kelles March 31, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    Aren’t strawberries red enough? Or are they not using real berries???

  6. archonic March 30, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    Or they could just stand to have a strawberry drink that isn’t quite as red? Wtf…

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