It’s that time of year again: Valentine's Day, the love fest, the festival of love, the lover’s feast, the ancient appeal to the god of love –– Cupid or Eros, it never matters which one, because both names refer to the same chubby guy who coaxes eligible bachelors and swooning dames into union with a hunting bow. It is, incidentally, also the time of year when gift companies go in the black by selling only two things: cards and candy. Naturally, these products rapidly ascend the list of hot Google searches, making them soft targets for media outlets looking to drive traffic on this day of love.
Which brings us to the reason we’re here: If you come within 5 feet of the Internet today, you will find that a growing number of of outlets are drumming up public concern around Valentine’s Day candy. The idea is that these red sugar pellets are no good for you, not because candy has no nutritional purpose, but because they contain ingredients that are derived from insects and are therefore gross. “As you wander the aisles and aisles of red and pink candies trying to pick out the perfect sweet treat for your valentine, consider this: You could be asking him or her to eat bugs,” The Huffington Post writes about carmine, a coloring agent derived from cochineal bugs, a type of beetle.
Health Magazine, a website that, like the name suggests, is devoted to all things health, also join in the wave, singling out something called shellac –– a glossy substance secreted by the insect Kerria Iacca. “Candy lovers, cover your eyes: pretty, shiny treats like jelly beans come at a price,” they write. “It may be called a ‘confectioner’s glaze’ on the packaging. So sweet, and yet so sick.”
Gee, thanks a lot for ruining Valentine’s Day, right? But before you throw out all pink candy beans or gelatine hearts or heart-shaped boxes of treats, let’s take a deep breath, put our reading glasses on, and ask ourselves: What, really, is the issue here?
Take, for example, carmine. Now, we don’t run any labs ourselves, but from the arguments laid forth in favor of blowing off all things red this Valentine’s Day, a pretty lame threat arises. First, The Huffington Post, who is usually one of the more perspicacious outlets available, points to the “significant adverse reactions” attributed to carmine by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They add, however, that these allergic reactions only pose a threat to those who may be allergic to the substance –– a proposition that is also true for peanuts, milk, wheat, soybeans, and, well, everything that has ever been implicated in an allergic reaction.
Similarly, Health Magazine drives home the ew-factor by underscoring the fact that shellac is the “secretion” of an insect with a weird-looking latin name. Again, no cause for alarm, because you know what? So is silk –– the top-shelf worm spit that hasn’t gone out of style since King Agamemnon sauntered across it after the sacking of Troy.
The point here is that there’s no real reason to feel uncomfortable about most of these ingredients. At last check, candy was already a terrible thing to eat from a health perspective, regardless of the coloring agent used. Should you choose to make an exception on Valentine’s Day, don’t panic about whether an ingredient’s parent organsim was gross in life. When they are introduced into foods, they are usually little more than abstract derivatives, anyway.