Monday, August 15, 2005

Cochineal Farm near Oaxaca, Mexico

One of the more unusual places to visit in Oaxaca is the Cochineal Farm just outside the village of San Bartolo de Coyotepec, about 23 km (14 miles) south of the city of Oaxaca. This compact demonstration farm goes by the grandioise-sounding name of Centro de Difusión de Conocimiento la Grana Cochinilla Tlapanochestli. Cochineal is a natural red dye which dates back to pre-Hispanic times. It is made from crushed insects which the Spanish Conquistadors called grana cochinilla (Dactylopius coccus). These bugs are raised on a variety of Nopal cactus (prickly pear) common throughout much of Mexico. The farm has hundreds of these chubby cacti covered in a white filmy material which is secreted by the insects for camouflage.

At one time cochineal was in great demand in Europe as a dye for textiles, and it is still used by indigenous peoples. Cochineal has recently come back in favor as a natural coloring for food and cosmetics. A small museum at the Cochineal Farm has exhibits and a video on the history, production, and uses of cochineal. There is also a store with postcards and souvenirs dyed with cochineal. The farm is open Monday-Friday 9 am - 5 pm, and Saturday 9 am - 2 pm. Knock on the door and a worker will show you around.

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