Best time to travel to Canary Islands

Cochineal Harvest in Canary Islands

Come and see how insects, which are so important for the economic life of the Canary Islands, are grown in cactus fields

Best time: September–October

Cochineal Harvest
Cochineal Harvest
Cochineal Harvest
Cochineal Harvest

​Cochineal is soft-bodied, flat, oval-shaped scale insect. The deep red colour, known as carmine, is derived from an acid, produced by these insects. This dye is mostly used for colouring fabrics, but also in lipsticks, nail polish, and even some food products such as sausages. Cochineal dye use dates back to the times of Aztec and Mayan people. It originates from Central and North America. They feed off the cacti's sap and are spread naturally across cactus plantations. They are placed on the cacti, and after 60-70 days they have grown enough to be harvested. The harvesting of these insects that falls on autumn months has some special traditions to observe. Farmers wear an unusual uniform of brown wrapped paper around their arms and legs, and big hats to protect them from the sun. The dye is extracted from the female beetles. After another 10-20 days of drying, they are placed in bags and stored. Sometimes the process of extracting carmine may take years. Cochineal has its special part in the life of Canary Islands. In the 19th and 20th centuries, this was one of the most important industries on the islands. It is farmed all over Tenerife and Lanzarote and plays a great role in the islands' economy. Canary Island producers of carmine have to compete wi​th Peru, the leading producer. Luckily due to the natural factors and weather, they all have enough work and orders all over the world. Tens of thousands of dried cochineals are exported from each island to such countries as Germany, Italy, France, etc.

Practical info

When is the best time to see the Cochineal harvest in Tenerife and other Canary Islands?

The Cochineal harvest in Tenerife and other Canary Islands is best seen between September and October. The insects feed on the cactus sap, and the warm climate and dry weather of these months are conducive for their ideal growth. Farmers wear traditional garb during the harvesting period and obtain the insects from cactus fields. Show more

Where are the cactus fields located in Tenerife and Lanzarote where Cochineal grows?

Cactus fields spread across Tenerife and Lanzarote are where the Cochineal insect thrives. These insects can be found naturally in the cactus plantations, as they rely on the sap of cactus for nutrition and habitat. The Canary Islands provide the optimum weather and a high number of cactus fields for the ideal growth of the insect and the subsequent cultivation of cochineal dye. Show more

How is Cochineal dye extracted from the female beetles after they are harvested?

The harvested insects are sun-dried for 10-20 days, after which the carmine dye from the female Cochineal beetles is extracted through crushing. Carminic acid in the insect is a deep-red colorant used to produce dyes for fabrics and other materials. The process of extracting the dye from the crushed females is often time-consuming and may take several years to complete. Show more

What is the significance of the traditional brown paper uniform worn by the farmers during Cochineal harvesting?

Farmers wear a traditional brown paper uniform during Cochineal harvesting to protect their skin against the sun. This sustainable attire is constructed from brown paper and is wrapped around the farmers' arms and legs. Also, the broad-brimmed hat the farmers wear provides effective shielding against sunlight. These garments are a crucial component of the Cochineal harvesting tradition in the Canary Islands that has been in practice for many years. Show more

How does the Cochineal production industry of the Canary Islands compare with other competitors in the world, such as Peru?

The Cochineal production sector in the Canary Islands competes with Peru, which is presently the prime producer globally. Nevertheless, the ideal weather conditions in the Canary Islands confer a unique advantage to the Cochineal production industry. Tens of thousands of dried cochineals are exported from these islands yearly to countries such as Italy, France, Germany, and more worldwide. The Cochineal production sector significantly contributes to the economy of the Canary Islands and is a vital part of the region's culture and heritage. Show more

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