Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Well Red

BookHampton is ready for Valentine's Day
Main Street Optics is ready for Valentine's Day
A Perfect RedEmpire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire by Amy Butler Greenfield would be a perfect literary gift for Valentine's Day. A Perfect Red is the true tale of the historic quest for the perfect red dye. 
image via
In the sixteenth century, one of the world's most precious commodities was cochineal, a legendary red dye treasured, traded and cultivated in ancient Mexico. Discovered by the Spanish Conquistadors, once exported, cochineal became a world wide sensation. 
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Amy Butler Greenfield talks about her inspiration of for the book here. The quotation below seems especially meaningful:

It was in the winter of 2000-2001 that cochineal came back into my mind again. Here in Massachusetts, the ground was covered with snow for months, and every few days the weather forecasters warned that another storm was on the way. One gray day in the midst of that white season, I found myself staring at the rose-red geraniums on my kitchen windowsill, thinking, "What if that were it? What if that were all the red we had in the world?" And I suddenly understood, at a visceral level, how hungry people could be for a color. I could even imaging why they might risk their lives for it. That got me thinking about cochineal again, and I started digging through research libraries for more detail, to see if there might be a story there. And what a story it turned out to be -- four centuries and more of desire rivalry, and empire, with the color red at its heart. - Amy Butler Greenfield via
Maria Luisa de Orleans, Queen of Spain
Detail of painting by Jose Garcia Hidalgo, 1679 via

Strangely enough, you may have heard about cochineal recently due to a kerfuffle with Starbucks.
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Starbuck's Strawberry and Creme Frappaccino (above) and a few other products formerly used cochineal as food coloring until there was a consumer backlash. Back in the day, people would have paid extra for this precious additive. 

European medical indications for cochineal were many and varied - and like the dyers, most apothecaries had their own secret formulas for its use.... cochineal was considered an antidepressant: Gerald's Herball, a widely consulted medical text, claimed in the seventeenth century that it was "good against melancholy diseases, vaine imaginations, sighings, griefe, and sorrow with manifest cause, for that it purgeth away melancholy humors." -page 84, A Perfect Red
A little red sports car is also useful for purging melancholy humors.

Amy Butler Greenfield website
Article about writing The Perfect Red here
To Dye For review by Diane Ackerman here


  1. I actually read about cochineal years ago..It didn't wet my appetite:)..Your reds are varied and fun..
    Happy Valentine's day!


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