Whenever a big holiday rolls around, I start thinking about the festive foods I can make for it. Naturally that includes plenty of sweets, often ones that look best with some kind of bright, colorful frosting. And with 4th of July coming up, now is right about the time I’d normally head to the grocery store for food coloring.
I don’t have a problem with the processed food coloring you get at the store. Sure, some colors taste kind of wack (black and red know what I’m talking about), but you use such an incremental amount (like, 2 to 3 drops) I'm personally fine with it (and so is the FDA!).
That being said, I’ll take any opportunity to make something myself, and DIY-ing natural food coloring for my July 4th goodies sounded like just the kind of project I’d normally take on. So this year, even though I’m celebrating thousands of miles away, I picked up the stuff to (try to) make all-natural food coloring. I set out to learn how to make red, yellow, and blue. After all, once you have those down, the rainbow is your oyster! The results were interesting. Here’s everything you should and shouldn’t do based on my mistakes, and some tips from a someone who actually knows what they're doing.
You can make food coloring with ingredients you probably already have around your house, or ones that are super easy to get.
“For my homemade extracts I use ingredients like fruits, vegetables, and spices,” Gemma Stafford, blogger at Bigger Bolder Baking, tells SELF. She says they always make for vibrant, concentrated colors, without the help of any artificial chemicals.
Of course, not all fruits, vegetables, and spices are ideal for making natural food coloring. You’ll want to opt for those that have rich pigmentation—think, anything that might normally stain your hands, like spinach, blueberries, or beets. "Take a look around your kitchen and you will notice you have ingredients on hand that you can make homemade food coloring from," says Stafford.
For this project, I used red cabbage to make the blue coloring, turmeric to make the yellow, and beets to make the red, per the instructions from several Bon Appétit recipes.
No, these ingredients won't affect the way your food tastes.
When you use food coloring, you never need more than a drop or two to get all that you need. That's why Stafford says there's no way your food coloring will change the flavor of your food, even if you're using something really potent. "Turmeric has a very strong yellow color so you only need a tiny amount to color your frostings and glazes," she explains. "In large amounts you would normally taste it, but not in this instance."
The process is fairly simple.
Though the method for making each color differs, the majority are made by cooking down fruits or vegetables until you're left with a concentrated liquid, says Stafford. "It doesn't take long to create your color and each dye yields enough color to last for a few months," she adds. "Store them in the fridge and you'll always have them on hand."
Stafford told me that the best way to make that thick, vibrant food coloring is to cook the vegetables and then purée them until you have a rich, concentrated liquid. Then, filter the liquid through a sieve to remove any leftover fruit or vegetable pulp.
If you don't purée the fruit or vegetables, your food coloring might end up too watery.
I personally experienced this with the blue food coloring I tried to make. Instead of following Stafford's advice, I followed a recipe that instructed me to strain out the purple cabbage I'd used and reserve the remaining liquid, rather than puréeing them together.
I ended up with a purple food coloring rather than a blue one. I didn't mind the change in color, but I did mind the fact that it wasn't very concentrated—I had to use a lot to color my frosting, which made it kind of watery. In the future, I'll be using Stafford's puréeing approach instead, using red cabbage to make blue coloring.
Try making yellow food coloring with turmeric.
That turmeric works like a charm; my yellow food coloring was bright and vibrant. To make it, I boiled turmeric with 1/3 cup sugar and 2 cups water until the liquid was reduced by half. It was so great, I only needed to use a drop to make my frosting positively golden.
And beets for red food coloring.
If you want to make red food coloring, use Stafford's advice and boil beets until tender, then purée them with the liquid, and finally strain the purée through a sieve to extract the dye. The nice thing about this one is that if you only use a little, you'll get a pink food coloring, and a red one if you use a bit more. didn't have much success with my red food coloring since I didn't purée the liquid with the beets.
And from there, you can combine your red, blue, and yellow food colorings to make a bunch of other colors, so you can truly taste the rainbow.