AN AMAZING FACT: Among the ancient Aztecs, red dye was considered more valuable than gold. That’s because to acquire this bright red colorant it required the labor of hundreds of subjects to comb the desert in search of its source—the tiny female cochineal beetle. A pound of this rare extract required about a million insects. (Equally amazing, back in the days of the Roman Empire, a pound of royal purple dye required four million mollusks.)
After the arrival of Cortez in the 1500s, the Spaniards traded for the dried remains of this insect as a colorant that dyed items a bright crimson. This red cochineal dye was stronger than anything ever before known—and created a brilliant color that no one could duplicate.
Soon after its discovery, Europeans used it for fabrics, especially wool, and in handicrafts, rugs, and tapestries, in addition to using it as a food coloring. In the years that followed, Michelangelo used it in paintings, and the British and the Canadians used it for their red coats. It is thought that the first U.S. flag made by Betsy Ross had cochineal red stripes.
Today, less expensive synthetic dyes have replaced it, but it is still used as a natural, FDA- approved coloring for food, drugs, and cosmetics. In fact, strange as it may sound, some brands of fruit juice use this red bug as a colorant. The story of cochineal red gets even more fascinating. The Spanish traders never told the Europeans of its insect origin. Because the little beetles looked so much like seeds, they were traded as grain. For almost 300 years, the Spaniards perpetuated the notion that “dyed in the grain” was their special process for this permanent crimson dye that never faded. And that’s where we get the English term “ingrained.”
Did you know the Bible teaches that you can wash red stains with red blood and get white? God wants to wash away the crimson stains of our sins with the precious blood of Jesus and make our hearts “as white as snow.” His Word promises, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
KEY BIBLE TEXTS
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. Isaiah 1:18