For my son’s 4th birthday this year he asked for a Lightning McQueen cake. Determined to make the cake myself, I used as many organic, Fair Trade ingredients as possible. Then, I proceeded to cover it in icing laced with synthetic food coloring! It seemed somewhat counter-productive. I was so caught up in figuring out how to make the cake (without a mould); I didn’t consider the option of natural food coloring.
However, natural food dyes are commercially available. Growing concern from consumers about the health of synthetic dyes is creating a demand.
Synthetic food dyes are added to all sorts of processed food to enhance colors, mask color loss due to light or air exposure, even-out variations in color and to add fun color to otherwise colorless foods.
These dyes are used to create a false sense of what our food should look like. Without it, mint flavored things wouldn’t be green, colas wouldn’t be brown, and some meats would appear grey.
However, these dyes might be linked to significant health issues, particularly in children. In this video, Fox 35 talks to Dr. Don Colbert about how artificial food dyes might be linked to ADHD, hyperactivity, and asthma in children as well as cancer.
However, there are natural options. Here is a list of natural food coloring agents that can be used to color food (main source). Remember to add small amounts and then taste as most of these sources have a flavor of their own and not everyone likes turmeric or beet flavoured icing!
|Desired Color||Natural Source||Notes on Preparation|
|Yellow||Turmeric||Use stale turmeric as it is has lost a lot of flavour usually.|
|Orange||Annatto||Commercially available – this is the seed of the achiote flower (Bixa orellana).|
|Pink||Raspberries||Mash the juice from approximately 14 fresh or thawed raspberries using a sieve – good for icing.|
|Red||Beets||Commercially known as Betanin. Can be obtained as dried beet powder, or beet juice can be used.|
|Pomegranate||Use the juice.|
|Grape skins||Use extract from red grape skins.|
|Cochineal||Commercially available – this is made from the scale insect, Dactylopius coccus and is therefore not vegan or vegetarian friendly.|
|Paprika||This will obviously add flavouring as well as color so use sparingly.|
|Green||Chlorophyll||Commercially available and derived from chlorella algae.|
|Spinach||Use thawed or frozen spinach that has been blanched or pureed.|
|Avocado||Half a small avocado can be mashed to form a paste and can be mixed with icing to produce a light pastel green color.|
|Purple||Elderberry||The juice from elderberries can be extracted and is best if concentrated by boiling off some of the water.|
|Blueberries/blackberries||Combine approximately 14 of each of these berries and mash the juice through a sieve to combine with icing – yum.|
|Brown/tan||Chocolate||One for the pot, one for the cook!|
|Caramelized sugar||Sold as caramel coloring.|
|Tea/coffee||Use very strong brews.|
Keep in mind that even natural food colors can cause allergic reactions. Annatto, cochineal and carmine are all known to have caused reactions in sensitive people (source).
India Tree does also sell decorating colors in the standard red, blue, yellow dyes and all their products are made from natural plant products. They even sell a series of coloring sugars made with vegetable juice and turmeric.
I’ve said in previous posts that I feel I’m bombarded by enough chemicals in my daily life without needing to willfully ingest more. Sourcing organic, local and quality food will help eliminate unnecessary synthetic dyes from your diet. Read ingredient lists and familiarize yourself with food color additives on the FDA website so you can recognize them.
I can’t help it, I need to post a picture of my cake…next year I will definitely be using natural food coloring in the icing. He says he wants a stegosaurus next year…YIKES!