Switching to All Natural Food Colorings and Dyes

all natural food dyes

All natural food colorings and dyes are made from plants and other natural products. They are safe, gentle on the environment and more available than ever. Do they work as well as artificial dyes? And…are artificial food colorings really that bad?

The Problem with Artificial Food Dyes

More and more researchers believe that there is a link between chemical additives in food and certain health problems, especially in children. Some of the health problems identified with the use of these artificial food colorings are —

  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Behavioral problems
  • Depression
  • Food allergies
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Moodiness

The Most Dangerous Food Colorings

Many pediatricians have asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban certain dyes, including –

  • Blue dye #1 and #2
  • Green dye #3
  • Orange dye B, which is prevalent in hot dogs
  • Red dye #3 and #40
  • Yellow #5 and #6

Several if these dyes are banned in countries other than the United States. Manufacturers that sell in this other countries have to change their formulas. For example, in Great Britain Kraft boxed macaroni and cheese is pale because the yellow dye is banned.

What Are All Natural Food Colorings Made From?

All natural food colorings are made with natural products that have been used for decades, and in some cases centuries, without problems. Traditionally grated carrots were added to the cream that butter was to be made from to give it a more golden hue. Beets were added to create a crimson color in cakes and frostings – and the list goes on.

The problem with natural and organic food dyes is that they are not always consistent in how they color something. Also, it is important to remember that while all natural dyes are made from natural ingredients they are not always organic.

Examples of natural food dyes are –

  • Brown is often made from caramelized sugar
  • Blue made from red cabbage or blueberry skins
  • Green made from vegetable extracts like spinach, parsley, etc.
  • Orange is typically made from the pulp around the annatto seed but can also be made with carrots
  • Red may be made of hibiscus, beets or the Cochineal beetle (sounds gross but it has been used for over a century)
  • Pink may be made from beets
  • Purple can be made from blackberry, purple carrots or red cabbage
  • Yellow can be made from turmeric or carrot

How to Use Natural Food Dyes

There are both benefits and disadvantages to using all natural food colorings. They do not always produce a consistent result and you may not get the color you are looking for. For example, using beet puree or juice in a red velvet cake creates a brownish color — not the bright red of the artificial dye.

You can predict the results a little better if you follow these tips for using plant based food colorings.

  • Add the color a little at a time and stop when the color is close to what you want.
  • All natural dyes may mix differently than the artificial food colors. Experiment with mixing them before you use them on an important cake or other baked goods.
  • Choose commercially prepared natural food dyes – do not try to make your own. Your homemade dyes will yield inconsistent results.
  • Plant based dyes may change the flavor of your food significantly if you use a lot of it. Beware of spinach flavored green frosting!

How to Make Homemade Food Colorings

Homemade food colorings are fun to make but it is important to remember that the results will never be as consistent as when you use a commercially made natural dye. If you want an organic dye be sure to use organic ingredients.

If you have a juicer you can use it to create food colorings from the vegetables and fruits you have in your pantry. You can also create color by boiling an ingredient in water and then allowing it to steep overnight. Next day drain of the colored liquid, strain and boil it to reduce it and intensify the color.

You can also make a puree of the ingredient and add it like a paste food color – but you need to be careful because too much will flavor your project.

  • Black – Squid ink (can be found at many gourmet food stores, not recommended for sweets! Works great for pastas and sauces)
  • Blue – blueberry paste, eggplant skins, beets
  • Brown — cocoa or caramelized sugar
  • Green – chard, kale, spinach, parsley
  • Orange – carrots
  • Purple – red cabbage, water from soaking black beans is a purplish black color
  • Red – beets, hibiscus, red currant paste, strawberries, cranberries
  • Yellow – Turmeric (gives a golden color,) carrots, saffron, yellow peppers

Always Test before Using

It is important that you experiment with the organic and all natural food dyes before you use them in a project, whether they are commercially made or you make them yourself. You should test them every time until you are familiar with how they mix up and what colors you can create. There is definitely a learning curve.

Why Should I Change My Products?

A home cook might want to switch to natural dyes to ensure the health of his or her family but why should a commercial operation consider it?

More and more consumers are fed up with chemical laden foods that pose a health risk to their children. With behavioral disorders like ADHD rampant in the schools and these disorders increasingly linked to artificial ingredients in food these consumers are looking for quality items that they can feel good about serving to their children. Companies that are proactive and begin offering products that are made with natural dyes and flavorings will find that they have less competition in the marketplace and may well be able to charge more for their goods.

Best of all, they are likely to have a loyal customer base that recommends them, increasing their brand recognition. Using all natural colorings and other products is a win-win situation.

photo credit: Growing a Green Family via photopin cc

- Marye Audet

Marye Audet is an author, freelance writer, and editor. Cooking, baking, and recipe development have been a major part of her life since she baked her first loaf of bread at age 13. Luckily, with a husband, eight children, a son in law, and three grandchildren she has enough test-tasters to handle the steady stream of experiments that come from her kitchen.

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