Jan 27, 2008

Rapid Rhetoric: KERMES

Raphael's depiction of Plato defining the difference between true and false rhetoric This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word I came across that I have never previously used.

kermes (KEHR-meez) n. a crimson-red dye made from the insects Kermes ilicis and Kermes vermilio; a type of Mediterranean shrub, rsembling an oak, that is an important source of food for Kermes insects; a genus of scale insects in the order Hemiptera that feed on the leaves of evergreen oaks and produce a crimson dye.

I was previously familiar with the New World dye known as cochineal that is produced by the insect known as Dactylopius coccus as they devour cacti, but "kermes" was a new term to me.

Kermes is one of the oldest dyes in recorded history, and was mentioned in the book of Genesis (38:28) as "scarlet." The kermes dye trade of Sardis, the capital of Lydia, was so renowned that the expression "the red bath of Sardes" arose. Kermes was an important trade product until the sixteenth century, when cochineal began to replace it as a superior red dye.

Those who produced dye from Kermes insects would gather them and allow the bodies to dry. The dried insects - females contained the highest concentrations of carmine, the active chemical - would then be crushed and boiled to extract the dye. The resultant solution would then be mixed with a mordant, such as with alum, cream of tartar, stannous chloride, or potassium hydrogen oxalate.


Sergej said...

Well, if you never heard that word before, I think you don't know the "alchermes", a typical italian liqueur (of a brilliant red hue) often home-made from our grannies :-) and where a mandatory ingredient was the kermes you were speaking of.

Not exactly a drink (a too much sweet taste), I always knew it was used in pastry

A past flavour :-)

Sergej said...

errata: ehm... I think my sentence "liqueur made from grannies" sounds better written "liqueur made by grannies" It's not a cannibal recipe ;-)