Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Poisoned Sugarplums: Eliza R. Snow Writes for Little Children

Poisoned Sugarplums: Eliza R. Snow Writes for Little Children

By: Ardis E. Parshall - December 14, 2012

From the Juvenile Instructor, 1867 –


This is a sweet word to write about. All children like candy, and”men” (and women too) “are but children of a larger growth,” and so we all must like it.

I confess I do like some candies, but I do not like the paint which is put into some of them, to please the fancy of children, at the expense of health and even life. Two children died a few years since in the state of Connecticut, from the effects of eating highly colored candy. I have seen children reduced to a very feeble state of health, by indulging in this luxury.

Children, when you see the beautiful candy with bright red colors, be careful – do not eat much of it – it is poison. That paint, although it is sweetened so that it tastes good, is made of a dyestuff that is called cochineal. The little children must ask someone to tell them how to pronounce this name, for it is a hard one.

Cochineal is nothing else than little insects or bugs: it takes the name from the tree, or rather the tall bushes, on which they grow, in a warm climate in the south. People gather them and kill and dry them; and these, when used as a dye-stuff, make a variety of beautiful shades of color, from the richest scarlet, to a light vermeil or peach-bloom, when combined with other ingredients.

These little bugs when dried, are brown on the outside, and a very dark red inside, and are of the size and shape of buckwheat seed.

If cochineal should belong exposed to the air, by being done up in paper or anything that will admit the air, it gradually turns brown or gray from the outside to the centre, and becomes useless.

Children, only think! when you are eating those beautifully colored candies, you are swallowing the juice of dried bugs. I wish you to think of this, and be careful not to take anything into your stomachs that will destroy your health.

Those candies that are not colored, are not poison; and will not hurt you unless they are indulged in too freely.

E[liza] R. S[now]



  1. yuck. I have a grandson who is allergic to red dye so I usually eat all the red candies for him. I think I’ll stop.

    Comment by Grant — December 14, 2012 @ 7:18 am

  2. Yeah, well, I think the advent of vegetable dyes, to say nothing of the passage and enforcement of food safety laws, have made this particular “yuck” obsolete. Unless, that is, you buy candy from China.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 14, 2012 @ 8:08 am

  3. I wonder how this was received. “Oh, look children! The president of the Relief Society and one of the prophet’s wives wrote an article just for you! I wonder what it says?” “EAT CANDY AND DIE!!”

    I don’t know what I expected. I am just surprised, as I frequently am when spiritual leaders expound on matters of health.

    Comment by HokieKate — December 14, 2012 @ 8:45 am

  4. Wow. Pull no punches, Eliza!

    Somehow I don’t see this kind of article in today’s Friend…

    Comment by Paul — December 14, 2012 @ 8:47 am

  5. Oh, cochineal (carmine) is very cool. I’ve seen the Coccus cacti, the source of cochineal, on cactus at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix (seen one squished for the red dye, actually) and it’s a beautiful color.

    It’s still in use and is very definitely not poisonous. It has a fascinating history from its use as a dye by the Aztec and Mayan peoples through the intrigues of the Spanish conquests and international trade wars.

    Health concerns over other artificial red dyes has increased the usage of cochineal in recent years. There is some debate over whether it is kosher, and some vegetarians try to avoid it, but it’s widely used in food, medicines, and cosmetics.

    The cochineal dyes wouldn’t have killed anyone; it’s not toxic and it’s not carcinogenic. The deaths would have been due to other impurities in the food, or perhaps impurities introduced in the processing of the cochineal.

    Comment by Amy T — December 14, 2012 @ 8:51 am

  6. Amy, fascinating.

    BTW, I sent this link to my daughter who used to work at the Friend and now works at another major children’s magazine, joking that we need more articles like this today. Her reply:

    “We should write more articles like that: Dear child, what you are doing is going to kill you.”

    I suppose she’s right; there probably is a better marketing approach.

    Comment by Paul — December 14, 2012 @ 8:57 am

  7. “Cochineal” is something I hear about regularly on Antiques Roadshow, although without that I suppose I would have had to have taken Eliza’s advice to ask somehow how to pronounce it as “it is a hard one.”

    There are a lot of published articles about perceived impurities in food, in most of the Church magazines from this time. They generally seemed aimed at discouraging violations of the Word of Wisdom as much as at food safety. The most bizarre I’ve seen is the rumor that Chinese tea sold in the U.S. had been previously used to embalm Chinese bodies, as evidenced, apparently, by whole fingernails found in packaged tea. No such thing as a 19th century Snopes, I guess.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 14, 2012 @ 9:20 am

  8. Snopes does help with the whole red dye business:
    They say it’s safe but it’s still bugs. So, score a half point for Sister Snow.

    Comment by Grant — December 14, 2012 @ 10:20 am

  9. Honey = bug spit.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 14, 2012 @ 10:43 am

  10. In other cochineal trivia, the famous red coats Paul Revere warned about were dyed with cochineal, and the nation of Belize (formerly British Honduras) was founded on the cochineal industry.

    I still claim ERS’s advice in general is sound. (Ever looked into how maraschino cherries are made?)

    Comment by The Other Clark — December 14, 2012 @ 12:34 pm

  11. Is that the same thing as blue M&Ms?

    Comment by Alison — December 15, 2012 @ 11:42 am

  12. TOC-

    I brought up maraschino cherries the other day. After a chemist friend took me to a processing plant, and I saw that many of the chemicals being used had hazard warnings about ingestion, I haven’t eaten one since. From what I understand, the processing eventually cancels the chemicals out, but the albino cherries, before that were redyed definitely left me and my stomach feeling queasy. In my mind, when I see them in the store, the site of a hundred thousand albino cherries haunts me.

    Comment by Julia — December 16, 2012 @ 7:25 am

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.
TrackBack URI