Make Natural Food Coloring Using Common Kitchen Ingredients

by Nicola Temple on November 3, 2011

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).

natural food coloring

India Tree makes natural food coloring that is made with natural vegetable extracts.

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!

natural food coloring

Next year, my son's birthday cake will incorporate natural food coloring in the icing!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Suzanne Holt November 4, 2011 at 6:06 pm

These sound like great suggestions and natural over color dye is obviously most preferred. I am pro chemical free. But I would think the taste of the spices would be picked up, especially on a cake. Something I am going to have to try out….on my family first. LOL



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