Cochineal insects (Dactylopius coccus) have long been used to produce crimson-colored dyes, primarily in food coloring. It is a small mealy bug that lives and feeds on the prickly pear cacti’s moisture and nutrients. Cochineal insects have high concentrations of Carminic acid. It is extracted from the insect and is mixed with alum to make carmine or cochineal dye. They are native to South America and Mexico, and Peru is the largest producer and exporter of cochineal.
An interesting observation that I’ve made with cochineal is the carmine red changed to orange when I’ve added an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar to the dye solution. When I’ve added an alkaline (soda ash), the color shifted to a dark fuchsia and deep violet to purple when iron was added. This demonstrates that cochineal is sensitive to pH.
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