This is not a joke: there are ground up red beetles being used right now as a food coloring ingredient in yogurt, ice cream, juice drinks and many other grocery products. The ingredient is called “carmine.”
Carmine is literally made from dried, ground-up red beetles, and its coloring (bright red) is used in yogurt, juice drinks, candies, and a long list of other products, including many “natural” products.
It’s not that these red beetles are dangerous. Except for a few individuals who suffer severe allergic reactions to the beetles, most people do just fine eating carmine. Beetles are probably good for you, just like ants. High in protein, low in fat… you get the picture.
But there’s a grossness factor that probably explains why products using this ingredient list “carmine” instead of “powdered red beetles” on the label. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has even petitioned the FDA to ban carmine(1), or, at the very least, require its clear labeling. The CSPI cites a study conducted by the doctors at the University of Michigan (headed by Dr. Baldwin, University of Michigan Medical Center) that demonstrated carmine can cause a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis — a condition that can put a person into shock and require hospitalization. But these reactions are extremely rare.