This is not a story about John and Paul, nor even Ringo or George.
My beetles are not “The Beatles.”
How I love Google! Let me make that clear at the outset. In the last week of July 2013, I chanced upon a Facebook conversation between parents about the best way to treat gastro with natural remedies, and mention was made of raspberry cordial.
That immediately sparked my memory – Robbie and I always took a small bottle of raspberry cordial with us when we went to Bali – on the specific advice of our GP, Dr. Zeke Pervan. The first time was about twenty years ago and we did it every time we went. While we were careful with our food and drink, we never suffered Bali Belly and always came home with the cordial bottle empty.
Sam (our cleaning lady) was there at the time of the Facebook discovery and we had a fun conversation about old cool drinks and cordials: we remembered “Passiona” when it was made by Cottee’s, recalled Weaver & Lock and talked about “Mexi” cool drinks which were home delivered. The name of who made the specific raspberry cordial escaped us.
Enter Google. Aha! Of course, it was Anchor!
Armed with this information, I posted a link in the Facebook conversation and decided to read a bit more about the efficacy of raspberry cordial in cases of gastroenteritis. I had good cause. In the previous few weeks, My Mum had suffered very badly with it for nearly two weeks, I caught it from her and passed it on to my Dad. In varying degrees, all three of us were laid low with gastro and none of us had remembered to use “raspberry cordial” at the time. However, are the gastro bugs really knocked out by the raspberries?
Not so! What I found led me to post another comment on the discussion – which simply said “But maybe it’s the red colouring that makes the difference??? I can feel a Nana Story coming on”
With all the debate that rages around whether “red cordial” sets children off into bouts of hyperactivity and is to be avoided at all costs, I spent several hours researching the differences between E120 and E124 – both used as red colouring agents for food. One (E120) is purely natural (created only from the Cochineal beetle) but banned for vegans and Muslims for its animal source. The other (E124) is a coal tar synthetic, created purely from chemicals, acceptable for vegans and Muslims but reputed to be very bad for kids with ADHD and similar complaints.
Because E120 is caught up in the “ban all red food additives” whirlwind, many kids suffer gastro unnecessarily when a bit of red cordial will fix it. The right red cordial. As I slaved away into the early hours of the morning, emailing myself over 170 links from Google for further research, I discovered that in the early 1800’s in Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), cochineal was recommended not only as a fail safe way to treat diarrhea but also recommended as an external application for piles.
Of course, by now I was hooked. I looked up everything I could find about the cochineal beetle. Now I know almost everything about its life story and history, which is far more interesting than looking at hysterical internet posts about banning various food additives. Do not misunderstand me. I do believe artificial food additives can be dangerous to our health, in many cases. On the other hand, the belief that because something is “natural” – i.e. occurs in nature, it is good for us doesn’t always hold true.
Think about ricin, a highly poisonous substance extracted from the castor oil seed, which is a weapon of some terrorists. It is also part of some chemotherapy regimes in the treatment of cancer and for bone marrow transplants, (because it is so poisonous) and I must remember to ask my oncologist if it was part of my chemo treatment.
Beetle number one? Done!
Now I know
- its history,
- life cycle,
- moreover, why red food colouring gets a bad wrap in the health industry.
Beetle number two? It popped up as the savior of the Queensland cattle industry in the early 1900’s and through to the 1940’s. Funnily enough, it was because of beetle number one it had to be introduced to Australia.
Now, I was caught in the writers’ dilemma. My first idea was to write about the misunderstanding that has arisen between the classification of E120 as a “bad” food additive, when in fact the reverse is true from a health perspective. It certainly is a world away from food additives like Red E124, Yellow E102, and Blue E133. Vegans and Muslims make their choices based on a different perspective. Taking on a worldwide health concern didn’t seem very productive for me, even though it is interesting.
When I checked the bottle of red food colouring I bought to do a science experiment with ants, it turned out to be E124, (the coal tar synthetic chemical), when years ago it used to be E120 (the natural Cochineal beetle extract).
Did it make the ants hyperactive? Well, no, because they much preferred the blue E133, until offered premium dried cat food with no artificial additives or colouring. They abandoned the food colouring syrup very rapidly. Although the food colourings are between 2% and 3% dye content and two or three drops in half a cup of syrup dispersed the base chemical, I probably wouldn’t do it again, even though the ants’ tummies did turn blue. So did Splinter’s poo, after he licked one saucer clean.
To be fair to Queen’s, their food colourings come in a very wide range of ingredient choices – so you would be hard pressed to not find something to suit you. There is a link included at the bottom of this post.
The history of the cochineal beetle and its follower to Australia was far more fun as a topic for me, as a writer. Especially when my research discovered the concept of the “£10 Pom” was put forward to the New South Wales colony as a way to increase immigration and add to industry and business growth in 1824 and again in 1831.
While reading about beetle number two, a little voice kept nagging in my ear that there was something missing. The “WOW” factor from the story about beetle number one and its introduction to Australia. The missing link that took me back to the 1500’s and earlier, in Mexico, from whence beetle number one and its host plant originated. This idle mind is idle no more. There is a story here – A Tale Of Two Beetles, just waiting to be written. In the words of the former Prime Minister, “gotta zip”.
Here is a link to Queen’s Food Colours and no, I have not been paid for product placement. Just in case you were wondering.
Did you enjoy this Snippet?
You can follow Stories My Nana Tells on our FACEBOOK PAGE for regular updates.