The cochineal is an insect (Dactylopius cocus costa) that is installed as a parasite, on the leaves of the prickly pear (Opuntia picus cactil).
Peru is the world's leading producer of cochineal, supplying approximately 84% of world demand (1500 t / year). Other producing areas are: The Canary Islands with 8%, Chile with 6%, Bolivia with 2% and Mexico.
The main importers of cochineal are the United States, Germany, Japan, France and the United Kingdom, Japan, United States, Germany, Mexico and Switzerland.
The natural colorant that is extracted from the cochineal contains two substances: Carmine and carminic acid, which are harmless to man, so it is recommended as a natural colorant, ranging from bright red to purple
- The cochineal is installed on the prickly pear leaf as a parasite. Cochineal grows in coastal and mountain regions in temperatures between 14 and 27 ° C, the relative humidity of 55% to 85%, and a rainfall of 400 to 800 mm / year. At higher temperatures and lower humidity, the development of the mealybug accelerates.
- Strong winds cause the release of the mealybug, however, moderate winds favor the infestation.
- Heavy rains cause the cochineal to shed.
- For the preparation of the land, plowing is carried out, opening furrows to fertilize, bringing stalks for subsequent sowing.
- It begins with the obtaining of prickly pear leaves, being necessary from 20,000 to 25,000 for each hectare
- Once planted, they must remain between 15-20 days without water to avoid rotting.
- It continues with adequate fertilization and irrigation to achieve its best size (third level)
- For each male, there are between 150 and 200 adult females. The female has a life cycle of 89-136 days from egg-laying to adult stage.
- The infestation of the prickly pear can be: natural or induced. We apply both tecniques.
- Natural infestation: The prickly pear leaves are infested in a natural way induced by the wind and produced by migrating nymphs that move between plants.
- Artificial infestation: For a large-scale infestation, adult females in oviposition are placed on the prickly pear, the best known being the cardboard boxes, tulle bags.
- The artificial infestation has to be carried out during the months with less heat to guarantee a good infestation (December to March).
- The prickly pear grow freely and reproduce freely.
- The harvest is carried out according to the degree of maturity; the female cochineal to guarantee its quality.
- Harvesting is manual and careful so as not to break the insect and spill the pigment; It is carried out using spatulas of the spoon type, brushes or fine brushes and placing it is not very deep collecting containers so that they are not crushed.
- Annually you can make 4 harvests.
- The quality depends on the time in which the mealybug is harvested. As the techniques of killing and drying it.
- They can be: Slaughter by suffocation and Slaughter to the Sun.
- It can be killed by suffocation, where black plastic bags are used and exposed to the sun so that the mealybugs die in a few minutes.
- The cochineal is dried, by natural methods (solar drying for 4-5 hours for 6 days or in the shade for 20-30 days).
- After drying, the cleaning of impurities such as: thorns, sand or other siliceous elements is carried out.
- Once dry and classified, the cochineal is packaged in jars, bags and sacks of jute or waterproof plastic or in 50 kg drums made of pressed cardboard with metal rings that allow the cochineal not to be damaged. It is stored at temperatures below 20ºC and relative humidity below 50 percent.