Kermes is a red dye used as a food colouring.
It is derived from the shell of a small insect that lives on some oak trees in the Mediterranean, particularly holm oaks (quercus ilex) and shrub oaks (quercus coccifera.)
The bug is round, about the size of a pea. It doesn’t move about, but rather stays affixed in one place for its entire lifetime.
The female bugs are harvested. They were harvested by hand. Women would let their finger nails grow long to help them scrape the bugs off more easily.
Kermes lost popularity after cochineal insects, to which Kermes bugs are related, were introduced from Mexico in the 1600s.
The English word “Kermes” comes from the Arab word “qirmiz.”