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A customer sips a Starbucks beverage.

Lisa Poole

Are you slurping up bugs with your Frappuccino?

According to ABC News, ingesting insects with one's Starbucks Strawberry Frappuccino may be unavoidable. The company has reportedly started using cochineal extract, derived from dehydrated and ground up cochineal bugs, to create the drink's pink colour in a move away from artificial additives.

In a statement, responding in part, to inquiries about whether the Strawberry Frappucino is vegan, Starbucks said it has "a goal to minimize artificial ingredients in our products. While the strawberry base isn't a vegan product, it helps us move away from artificial dyes," ABC News reports.

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Starbucks added that its ingredients can be combined to make beverages that are free of animal-derived products, but the company cannot guarantee this due to potential cross-contamination.

Gross? Maybe. But as the broadcaster points out, the crushed insects are considered safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and are commonly used to colour a wide variety of foods, from jams and alcoholic drinks to meat and cheddar cheese. (Cochineal is also included in this Health Canada list of " food additives permitted for use in Canada." )

Starbucks' use of the red cochineal extract was apparently brought to light when one of the company's baristas wrote to ThisDishIsVegetarian.com to warn fellow vegans.

"I wanted to let you guys know that the Strawberries and Cream Frappucinos and Strawberry Smoothies at Starbucks are NOT vegan," even though they are made with soy milk, the barista wrote, noting that the addition of cochineal extract likely occurred several weeks ago. "I was hoping you guys could help get the word out there so that no veg*ns [sic]end up drinking this formerly vegan frappucino by mistake!"

Given the concerns surrounding the possible health impact of artificial food dyes, perhaps the use of bugs to colour food is somewhat more palatable than synthetic substances. Of course, one wonders how appetizing the Starbucks drinks would look with no added colouring at all.

What do you think? Would you suck up a few bugs rather than ingest artificial food colouring?

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