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Natural Alternatives to Food Coloring?

This was the first holiday season in which we've been avoiding food coloring for health reasons, and it was a little sad for me, especially the lack of red - no candy cane twist cookies, no pink icing on Valentine's Day cupcakes... For Easter Eggs I've heard of using beets, but that's not going to work in icing and sweets. I'm hoping to start getting a list together for experimenting throughout the year so that I can have a good list of alternatives for the next few holidays. St. Patrick's Day and my shamrock cookies are just around the corner...

Any thoughts?

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  1. I think beets would work just fine in sweets. They have very little flavor.

    1 Reply
    1. re: jvanderh

      I agree - a little beet juice would go a very long way in colouring icing. Whole Foods does cute pink and blue iced cupcakes using pureed raspberry and blueberry I believe. There's no real fruit flavour.

    2. Beet juice should do just fine...there is even beet sugar available somewhere isn't there? Thought I doubt it is actually pink, the idea is the same.

      Green is a little trickier for sweets unless you can justify a peppermint twist and use real mint...it stains nicely if you use a mortar and pestle.

      1. We always colored Easter eggs with onion skins.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Cathy

          My wife is into fiber arts and fabric dying. I've collected onion skins for her and it's produces a wonderful color. I now have a bag of skins from red onions that I'm adding to. We will see how it turns out.

        2. Do a internet search for "natural food colorings". Several companies make plant derived food colorings designed for use in sweets and icings. The colors are a bit muted compared to the synthetic food colorings but they do a really good job at pastel-ish colors, just don't expect to get anything really black or blue.

          1. What about boiling cranberries and using that liquid? Haven't done it, just thinking out loud.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Nicolette S

              It might work-- especially if you blended up the cranberries then strained.

            2. Many, many moons ago we colored eggs the old fashioned way, but only after coloring them with crayons. If you decorate with regular crayons, putting borders or stars or bunny rabbits, you can color them in onion skin water, or beet water, or whatever you come up with, and the crayon designs will show up. I am assuming you will not be boiling the eggs after crayoning on them, of course! I always enjoyed doing this with the kids.

              1. Not sure how "natural" you want to go.
                But, red dye in foods, beverages and cosmetics most likely come from crushed red beetles.


                1. Thursday, what did you end up doing? I'm interested in ideas that have been tested.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Nicolette S

                    So far, unfortunately, nothing. I tried juicing some beets intending to use the juice, and the smell was so viciously beet-y that I just couldn't bring myself to try it. I'm still hoping to experiment with something else, but haven't yet had the time to come up with anything.

                    1. re: thursday

                      Sorry to hear that didn't work! I think I cooked mine first, but I'm not sure how much difference that makes.

                  2. Hi there...

                    I don't use artificial food coloring either.

                    It's too late for Valentine's Day but I do have a possible solution for pink icing. I came across a recipe for Jelly Frosting the other day. Very simple, similar to Seven-Minute.

                    Whether it will work for you will depend on the flavor you want.

                    I made it with strawberry jelly. A lovely pink icing with great taste. Could be made with mint jelly for green. Grape for lavender?

                    Mix 1/2 cup jelly with an unbeaten egg white, 2 tablespoons of sugar and a dash of salt. Cook over boiling water beating constantly to stiff peaks. It took maybe 8 minutes. Take it off heat and beat a couple of minutes until it's spreadable.

                    It filled and frosted one 8-inch layer. (I cut the layer in half and stacked it.) I'd guess it would generously frost a couple dozen cupcakes.

                    The cake has been in the fridge for a couple of days and I notice the frosting isn't getting sugary the way Seven Minute does. Apparently because of jelly instead of granulated sugar.


                    1 Reply
                    1. re: I used to know how to cook...

                      Well, big DUHHHH...

                      Mint jelly very likely has food coloring in it.

                      Sorry, senior moment!


                    2. I run a bakery where we only use natural food colorings, and we don't use red that contains carmine (from beetles). I believe whole foods sells colors that are derived from vegetables for home use. We color icings successfully, though there is often a need to mix to get shades, and we often add baking soda to help set the color longer. Natural colors don't love light, so once you ice your cupcakes, don't leave them out unless they're covered in an opaque container for longest lasting results.

                      1. blueberries(many diff berries), tumeric, annato or achiote, pomegranate juice, spinach puree, tomato soup, carrot puree, saffron, butternut squash puree. some of these will lend flavour, obviously. however, most of them, substituted for certain ingredients (such as part of the liquid or oil) will not have any affect on flavour and lend a beautiful colour.

                        as someone else mentioned, many food colours are made of natural ingredients (red is just ground up beetles) and there are organic options on the market.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: monpetitescargot

                          spinach puree in your frosting! brilliant! i think, don't be scared of the vegetables imparting flavor into your frosting. it will be minimal, if any at all. plus, it's a good way to trick your kids into eating vegetables. if the puree is still too chunky for you, try juicing it in a juicer. or squeezing out the juice from the puree in a cheesecloth and just using the juice part.

                          1. If pastel green is acceptable, you could try pandan leaves (available at SE Asian markets). Pandan paste or essence is available for purchase online. Pandan has a subtle flavor and is commonly used in SE Asian desserts.