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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.