Red, a history

First of all let me just say, no, Daniel was not on any illegal hallucinatory substance as he was writing his enormously flowery and somewhat stream of consciousness blog "Red, an introduction".   He was, however,  downing Trader Joe’s dark chocolate espresso beans by the fistful. That said, here is my less flowery, more scientific post "Red, a history".
Until recent times, the color red in fabric was a sign of power and prestige worn only by  royalty or religious leaders through out most of the world as it was very expensive to produce. 
 Back in the 1500s the Spaniards brought back the intense dye the Maya and Aztecs had been using on their cotton for blankets and closing.  
The fab picture above comes from Xtreme Horticulture.
  The color came from the cochineal, a tiny parasite that attaches to cactus, and when crushed secretes an intense blood red color, carminic acid, that will stain cloth (or anything for that matter) in that classic, quintessential red impossible to reproduce earlier.  It  caused such a rage of red across Europe and Asia, that this lowly bug was  valued in the stock exchange!
In the 1600s the cochineal was used to dye the coats for guards at Buckingham Palace,  and the contract with the dye company lasted through the 20th century.
Before you wonder how many innocent cochineals were slaughtered for our sexy red velvet sofa, relax.  By the eighteen hundreds synthetic dyes were being used; cochineal is on somewhat of a come back tour being used in food in lieu of some of the red chemical coloring that seems to be toxic particularly to children.  
So next time you eat your favorite red velvet cake, you may be eating some of these guys as well.
Daniel's advice if you see cochineal scale starting on your cactus, act fast with some fungicide.  They can kill even mature plants.
Posted by maite garcia on 08 February, 2017 1 comment
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