Starbucks announced earlier this week that their Strawberries & Creme Frappuccino contains cochineal extract: a type of food coloring made from crushed bugs. Some think this could make the chain less appealing to vegans (although, to be fair: Frapps aren’t vegan-friendly with or without the insect-derived food coloring), and others are happy that Starbucks is using a “natural” dye. But here’s my problem with the fact that bugs are making their drinks pink: It also means they’re not really using fruit.
Starbucks’ statement emphasized the “not-vegan-but-more-natural” spin on cochineal:
At Starbucks, we strive to carry products that meet a variety of dietary lifestyles and needs. While the strawberry base isn’t a vegan product, it helps us move away from artificial dyes.
But here’s the thing: If they were using real strawberries, they wouldn’t have to use any kind of dye.
I make smoothies pretty regularly, and I happen to like makings strawberry smoothies, too. Miraculously, mine turn out pretty darn pink without the help of food coloring; that’s because berries are pretty colorful all by themselves (which, incidentally, happens to be why they’re so good for you, too). If Starbucks were using real strawberries—frozen, like I do, or even cooked with sugar and made into a syrup, which would probably be easier for the company to stock on a mass scale—they wouldn’t need to use cochineal at all.
I don’t think anyone will be shocked to know that Strawberries & Creme Frappuccinos aren’t the healthiest way to get a serving of fresh fruit. But I do think their announcement points to the fact that a lot of processed food is made of even shadier ingredients than we realize; the sugar and fat that you thought made these drinks “bad” is just the beginning.