Definition of cochineal in US English:



  • 1A scarlet dye used chiefly for coloring food.

    • ‘It produces the colorant cochineal, otherwise known as carmine or E120.’
    • ‘Cochineal became the standard dye for a wide variety of uses, from the red coats of British soldiers, to the red tints of artists' paints.’
    • ‘The same options were available for dyeing the wool or cotton, which could be achieved at home using dyes such as cochineal and indigo.’
    • ‘The most common animal dye was cochineal, a crimson colour which came from cactus eating insects, of which 17,000 were needed to produce one single ounce of dye.’
    • ‘Traditional red colouring includes kermes and cochineal, both of which are pigments made by crushing masses of tiny insects.’
    • ‘His study deals with the production and marketing of cochineal from the mid-eighteenth century until the industry went into a rapid decline.’
    scarlet, vermilion, ruby, ruby-red, ruby-coloured, cherry, cherry-red, cerise, cardinal, carmine, wine, wine-red, wine-coloured, claret, claret-red, claret-coloured, blood-red
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    1. 1.1 A dye similar to cochineal made from the oak kermes insect.
      See kermes
  • 2The scale insect that is used for cochineal, native to Mexico and formerly widely cultivated on cacti.

    Dactylopius coccus, family Dactylopiidae, suborder Homoptera

    • ‘The brightly-coloured snack contains a red dye processed from the dried body of the female cochineal insect, collected in central America.’
    • ‘The cactus, or more precisely, the cochineal insects that feed on it yield a red-purple stain when crushed.’
    • ‘The kermes was expensive and the abundant cochineal insect could be used to make a cheap substitute.’
    • ‘The Aztecs cultivated cochineal and produced a red dye that was the brightest and strongest color Europe had ever seen.’
    • ‘Farmed, harvested, and dried by natives on small family plots, cochineal insects helped color the silks and wools of Hapsburg royalty.’


Late 16th century: from French cochenille or Spanish cochinilla, from Latin coccinus ‘scarlet’, from Greek kokkos ‘berry’ (the insect bodies were mistaken for grains or berries). Compare with coccus, kermes.