- noun a red colouring matter obtained from the dried body of an insect, the female concilla (coccus cacti) found in Mexico, Central America and the West Indies
- A deep red food colouring. Originally extracted from and contained in the fat and egg yolks of an insect, Coccus cacti, found in Mexico and Brazil, but now made synthetically.
Origin & History of “cochineal”
Cochineal ‘red dye’ comes via French cochenille from Old Spanish cochinilla, a term applied both to the dye and to the small insect related to the mealybugs, from whose dried body it is made. It is generally thought to be a derivative of Latin coccinus ‘scarlet’, which in turn came from Greek kokkinos, a derivative of kókos, the Greek term for the cochineal insect (the word originally meant ‘berry, seed’ – it was applied to various bacteria, such as streptococcus and staphylococcus, because of their spherical seedlike shape – and it was thought in ancient times that the dried body of the insect was a berry).