Homemade Food Coloring for Baked Goods



Synthetic food dyes are hard to avoid because they're in all kinds of food products. In fact, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) notes that manufacturers pour around 15 million pounds of synthetic dyes into foods annually which amounts to a whopping amount of fake food chemicals. In 2010, CSPI released a report called, “Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks” all about the many health risks of the nine currently approved food dyes used in food products. Some of the health risks in the report include...



  • The three most widely used dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, are contaminated with known carcinogens.

  • The FDA notes that Red 3 is also a carcinogen.

  • Various studies show that mixtures of chemical food dyes cause hyperactivity and other behavioral impairments in children.

  • Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 have long been known to cause allergic reactions in some people.

  • Recent tests on lab animals (so yeah, there's lab animal tests too) conducted with Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 produced signs of causing cancer, while Yellow 5 also caused mutations.



DIY Homemade Food Colors



In any case, you can avoid fake food dyes by buying certified organic food, eating food that's minimally processed, cook homemade meals more often or you can make homemade all-natural food dyes and use them to color your baked goods.



Homemade food dye Q&A



What can homemade food coloring be used for?



You can use homemade food coloring for anything you'd use normal food dyes for, such as coloring cakes, cookies, pastries, pancakes, frosting and so on.



Do you need a juicer?



A juicer helps you make food coloring faster, but I don't have one, so I use a very fine strainer and it works fine. I've also used a reusable coffee filter, as it's got fine mesh so it strains nicely (but slowly). You also don't need a juicer if you're making dyes with spices, flowers or teas.




Items you can use to make homemade food dye



What products can be used to make homemade food dyes?



  • GREEN: Green tea powder (Matcha), fresh spinach, seaweed.

  • RED & PINK: Some edible flowers, most berries, beets, red current, cranberries, rhubarb, pomegranate, paprika.

  • YELLOW & ORANGE: Some edible flowers, carrots, egg yolk (if you're vegetarian), orange zest, turmeric, saffron, turmeric, chili powder.

  • BLUE & PURPLE: Dark berries like blueberries or blackberries, cornflower, red or purple cabbage.

  • GRAY, BROWN & BLACK: Dark teas (loose or tea bags), poppy seed, cinnamon, Kinako (toasted soybean flour), coffee, dark cocoa powder


Another route, if making homemade dye sounds too hard is to use all-natural store-bought food colors. Below are some safe, all-natural food color options.





Cake colors contrasted with plain white cake



Will homemade food dyes make my cake taste like spinach or spice?



It depends. Oddly, most produce doesn't add much flavor to baked goods. I've dyed many a cake green with spinach and no kid (or adult) I know has ever figured it out. Spices, teas, cocoa, coffee, some edible flowers and items like this will add more flavor though, so you're better off using produce when you can or using minimal amounts.



Can you use frozen produce?



Yes, except for spinach. Frozen spinach results in an ugly green while fresh makes a pretty, vibrant green. Berries tend to yield the same colors though whether fresh or frozen.




Gallery of different cake colors made with homemade food dye



Will the colors pop?



Some natural food dyes are just as bright and popping as fake food dyes. Others - not so much. But, you'll still get pretty colors, they'll just be natural looking vs. neon. Who needs neon anyhow? It's cool to get used to how natural food looks and tastes.



One thing to note is that it is hard to get 100% true blue or red when making natural food dyes. Also remember that the top color of baked goods will look a little brighter than the inside. The more you play around with natural dyes, the more you'll see that you can make an entire rainbow of color options.




Cake colors contrasted with plain white cake



Making your all-natural food dyes...



*IMPORTANT: Before you make homemade dyes, get some cleaning cloths out. Natural dyes have been known to dye everything - like your kitchen counter or skin. Beets and dark berries are especially staining and so are some spices. If you spill some produce juice, wipe it up right away, and DO NOT wear your favorite white shirt as you do this project.



1) Gather all the produce you need to make natural food dyes.


2) Grab some equipment: Blender, juicer, fine mesh strainer or mesh cloth. Plus a pot, spoons and if you have one a pastry cutter or potato masher.



Methods for making various natural food dyes



For produce based food dyes: Heat, blend then strain for berry juice or puree (puree adds a bit more flavor but results in brighter colors). Though the basic method is the same, below are some tips.




Smashing down berries for juice



BERRY JUICE & PUREE:


  • Wash your berries.

  • Heat up berries in the microwave or in a pot which makes it easier and faster to express juice.

  • Puree in the blender OR use a spoon to mash your berries up well.

  • Place your puree (or even whole heated berries) into a fine mesh cloth or bag or super tiny strainer over a bowl, then use a masher, spoon or pastry cutter to press the berries down until all the juice or puree squeezes into the bowl.



Blending spinach for juice



FRESH SPINACH JUICE:


  • Wash spinach and remove the stems.

  • If you've got a juicer, use it.

  • If you don’t have a juicer, blend about 2 cups of spinach with 3 tablespoons water in your blender. Pour your puree into a fine mesh cloth or fine strainer and squeeze into bowl to get your juice.



Cake colors contrasted with plain white cake



CARROT PUREE:


  • Wash and cut a large organic carrot into chunks.

  • Use your juicer to get juice OR if you have no juicer do the following. Boil or steam the carrot until soft. Puree in blender with 3 tablespoons of water. If you’re good with puree, you’re done. If you want juice, place your puree into a fine mesh cloth or strainer and press it down - BUT carrot juice is not very bright. I'd use puree.


BEET PUREE & JUICE:


  • Juice in a juicer or use juice from jarred beets.

  • If using fresh, peel and wash a medium sized beet. Cut into chunks and boil or steam until soft.

  • Puree in blender with 3 tablespoons water. If you’re good with puree, you’re done. If you want beet juice use the mesh cloth or strainer method.


EGG YOLK:


  • One tablespoon of egg yolk mixed into batter will make yellow.

  • Clearly, you cannot use egg yolk to color food if you're vegan, but you also shouldn't use it in frosting or other uncooked foods.You have to cook whatever egg yolk goes into.


GREEN TEA POWDER OR SPICES OR OTHER POWDERS:


  • Add a teaspoon of green tea powder at a time to your cake batter or frosting until desired green color is achieved. Do a few taste tests, because too much green tea can taste bitter.

  • Add very tiny amounts of spices to batter or frosting, tasting as you go, because spices will add flavor.

  • If using coffee, tea, cocoa or other powdered items like this, only add a bit at a time to reach your desired color while avoiding strong flavors.



Cake colors contrasted with plain white cake



IMPORTANT: If you're making produce dyes ahead of time, you should put them in the fridge until you’re ready to use them. You can also save homemade food dyes in your fridge for a good while - as long as you might save juice.



If you have questions about making homemade food dyes, leave a comment below and I'll try to answer or feel free to message me.



Article and all images by Jennifer C