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cochineal

cochineal kŏchĭnēl´, kŏch´ĭnēl [key], natural dye obtained from an extract of the bodies of the females of the cochineal bug (Dactylopius confusus) found on certain species of cactus, especially Nopalea coccinellifera, native to Mexico and Central America. The insects' bodies contain the pigment called carminic acid, which is obtained by subjecting a mass of the crushed insects to steam or dry heat; such large numbers of the insects are needed to produce a small amount of dye that the cost is high. Once commonly used as a scarlet-red mordant dye for wool and as a food color, cochineal has been largely replaced by synthetic products. It is used chiefly now as a biological stain.

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