Natural Homemade Food Coloring For Baking, Frosting, and Easter!

March 25th, 2013 - filed under: The Food » Recipes

Happy spring! Did you celebrate the Vernal Equinox last week? I did, by counting any and every flower I saw in bloom – and there were many! Jasmine, wisteria, gerbera daisies, iris, rosemary, cactus flowers, bougainvillea everywhere! I could go on and on. I love this time of year!

It puts me in mind for celebrating, and what’s a celebration without treats? Brightly colored cupcakes, pastel icing on sugar cookies, and maybe even a frosted watermelon. And of course, all your Easter activities.

But, we’re all on the same page with chemical food dyes, right? As in, artificial coloring has been linked to everything from allergies to cancer to hyperactivity and behavior problems in children (for more information, see this comprehensive report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest). NOT something I want you to be putting into your – or your babies’ – mouths.

Which is why I’ve got you covered.

So here are my go-to techniques for all your DIY food coloring needs. Remember, produce not “products”! Okay?!

Look no further than your spice rack for all your golden, citrine, and sunshine-y needs. Saffron flowers and turmeric powder have both got you covered, but be careful! These spices are extra strong. A little goes a long way, so start veeeerry small and test as you go. A great technique is to replace liquid in the recipe (either baking or frosting) with spice-infused water.

Don’t waste your time on oranges or tangerines – carrots are where it’s at. Juicing them is the most effective method, so if you don’t have a juicer just buy some fresh 100% carrot juice at the market. They’ll add a smidge of flavor but I doubt you’ll notice, ’cause carrot juice is sweet!

Red and Pink
Beets, baby. They offer vibrant color with almost no flavor change. Beets are so strong they’ll dye your hands just cutting them. They’re made for the job! Just juice them, or boil them in very little water to make a concentrated liquid.

For a lighter pink and a bit more flavor, you can use red berries, like raspberries or strawberries. These will impart their own taste – which is great! (Hello, orange teacake with pomegranate glaze. I think I love you.) To use berries, just mash them or blend them, then strain the liquid through mesh to remove the seeds.

You know what I’m going to say right? Spinach, all the way. It’s super saturated and totally flavorless, making it the perfect addition to your St. Patrick’s Day cookies or your Earth Day cake. If you have a high-speed blender, you can whip whole spinach leaves right into your frosting. If you’re coloring cookies or cake, or you don’t have a high-speed blender, you’ll want to use juice. My instructions for juicing without a juicer may come in handy.

Another grassy-hued option is liquid chlorophyl, which aside from being a healthy supplement, will impart an awesome emerald tint to your food. You can grab it at any health food store.

Purple and Blue
This is the tricky twosome of natural food dye, but it CAN be done. Purple is pretty straightforward, and is achieved by boiling red cabbage until you get a dark, concentrated broth. Lots of pretty purple color without much change in flavor.

Blue is fun, and calls for some kitchen chemistry. Make your purple dye as noted above, but add a bit of baking soda at the end. Slowly stir it in, just a bit at a time, and watch as it reacts with compounds in the cabbage to turn the broth a beautiful blue. Like magic! (because, as I always say, baking soda is magic!)

I love experimenting with homemade food coloring, and I hope you’ll have as much fun as I do. Remember that the natural stuff isn’t as potent as the chemical garbage, so be prepared for a less saturated look. Play around with measurements, get creative, have at it!

And, happy celebrating!

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  • Jodi Veldheer

    just stumbled upon your post. Just about to make pumpkin shaped roll our sugar cookies and was thinking I didn’t want to use artificial dye- my little boys will get enough treats/candy for halloween. I really want to make it somewhat good for them. Going out to get carrots in a bit. Going to juice them in my vitamix- yay for natural orange dye! Thanks!

  • Alya

    Was up tv his me all day every oh kill em twerk twerk

  • Alya


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  • casey


  • casey


  • ds

    You definately used too much baking soda. If you add too much the colour changes to dark turquoise and then green.

  • Val Swabb

    Just boil it way way way down. Just be careful not to burn it, you can boil all the water out.

  • Val Swabb

    I’d guess you can boil the paprika for a while, then run it through a fine strainer or even a coffee filter, then reduce it more. This is how I get my yellow (bold brilliant yellow) with turmeric without getting the turmeric flavor.

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  • Jing

    I am thinking to make a rainbow cake. Can i made these color ahead? How long i can keep them?

  • Sayward Rebhal

    I haven’t tried to store them so I can’t be sure, but I wouldn’t imagine more than a few days at most.

  • Jeannie

    How does is work if you’re making your own fondant? (:

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Don’t know, I haven’t tried it! Let me know if you do! =D

  • Cathy McInnes

    Thank you so much for this informative post! I am the blog author of three kids and a fish and I am posting as blog post today on natural food coloring. I have mentioned this post as a great resource for makiong your own natural food coloring! Thanks so much :-)

  • pippa

    Hey – I made a black rice salad the other night and when the rice is cooked it turns purple…and the water was purple…and my wooden spoon was purple too!! An a amazing violet colour :)
    So I’m thinking this could also be used?? :)

  • pippa

    how did the party go? could you taste the baking soda in the frosting that went green? I’m hoping to make a ‘Hungry Little Caterpillar’ cupcake-cake for my sons birthday and need various shades of green yellow and red. I’ve experimented with spirulina powder and it seemed to work well, although you could taste it a little. Was going to try spinach but have a heap of red cabbage in the fridge so might give it a go…

  • Amanda

    Will the turmeric or saffron make frosting taste like it?

  • Sayward Rebhal

    It depends on how much you use. I can’t vouch for the saffron, but a sprinkle of turmeric was undetectable to me.

  • Diane

    Thinking miniature ice cube trays would work well for freezing cubes of color.

  • sisbeauty

    so I am trying to help a client make her own food coloring, the only problem is that she would like to make it for frosting and baking goods like that. She is not wanting the food coloring to change the taste of her food is there anything that she can use besides beets to make a red dye that will not change the taste?

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Any food-based dye is going to affect the flavor at least slightly, adding the flavor of whatever food/herb/spice you’ve used. I don’t know of any non-food dyes that are food safe (i’m thinking minerals or something), but it’s possible they exist.

  • Guest

    Thanks for the tip on the Cabbage Purple – to – Blue – to GREEN problem
    ! I need to make a mostly blue / maybe a little tiny bit green / coloring for a birthday cake soon and have food dye sensitive guests coming ! Really hoping to see the Blue as its a FROZEN themed cake ;) !

  • Cailin Banks

    Hi there, I know this is an old post but I’ve just come across it. I hope my question finds you well. I boiled the red cabbage and got a deep purple, then added the baking soda as suggested to make the blue colour. It’s now blue with a slight turquoise hue and tastes like baking soda. Obviously I added too much so I added some agave to try and sweeten it a bit. It still tastes terrible, just sweeter! My question, how much will its flavour impart on the cookie dough I want to use it in? Should I just start over with a new batch of red cabbage?

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Hi Cailin,

    Sorry it took me a few days to answer this, probably too long to help in this particular situation. But for others who may be reading, the baking soda would impart flavor t the finished product. I would start over.

    What did you end up doing?

  • Cailin Banks

    I’m going to start over Sayward. I was working on the dyes early to try and perfect them before my daughter’s bday next week. I definitely have to keep at it! How much water and red cabbage did use initially use to make the vibrant purple and how much baking soda did you use so to not impart that baking soda taste?

  • Ria ashraf

    Very interesting, I surely want to try this all …
    particularly the purple and blue.

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  • Stacer42

    I am hoping you can help me troubleshoot here… I tried to make the blue dye since my son is having a Sonic the Hedgehog birthday party in about a month. But the baking soda turned it green instead of blue. Any idea what I could have done wrong?

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  • Moto

    Easily the best, most thorough info on natural food colouring I’ve ever seen. One question though. I need to make black icing for halloween-any ideas? Was thinking squid ink but here in central australa don’t have access to fresh squd. Plus not sure the kids will go for it. Please help – I’m stuck!

  • Julie

    Thanks so much for this. I’m glad I’m not the only one who has experienced the green problem. I actually had to abandon my blue dye after many failed attempts last time I was trying for a Thomas color and didn’t come close. I am giving myself more advance trial and error this time. I only need pastel blue this time for Frozen themed cupcakes. I have a theory that to get blue and keep it blue, I have to add a smaller amount of baking soda. But, I’m not sure about a couple steps. Hoping someone can help. After I get a purple liquid from boiling cabbage should I keep boiling that down to a syrup consistency before adding the baking soda, in order for it to both turn blue and add properly to my cooking icing? Thanks for your advice.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    I did not boil down to a syrup consistency (but then, I never got the green issue either!) I do think that less is more with the baking soda. Hope that helps!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Sorry I was late for this. We couldn’t use squid ink because we’re vegan, but wondering what you came up with?

  • Lori

    I added the food color in place of the milk and then added more powdered sugar if necessary.

  • CindyMommy

    I am lately in love of making French Macarons and was wondering if I could use these homemade food coloring that can sustain 300F degree for 20 min without turning into brown color?

  • Sayward Rebhal

    They should be okay at that temp for that duration! They may darken up or fade a bit (in both cases, lose *brightness*), but should be fine.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    No idea! Hmmm … can’t do squid ink because I’m vegan. But I don’t have any ideas. Anyone out there know of anything?

  • Sarah

    Any idea what I might use to make a black frosting?? Want to make my son a Mickey birthday cake!!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Black is the hardest one! I don’t have an answer for black (yet!)

    Sorry. I’m looking into it . . .

  • Monika {windycityvegan}

    I’ve accidentally turned things a purplish black with the cooking water from forbidden rice. I wonder if adding a little bit of super black cocoa powder to the purplish black would make it more of a black-black?

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Well that’s a super interesting idea! Hmmm …

  • Muhammad Akram

    great idea to make food colorful naturally.Thanks

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  • Jane

    Use matcha green tea powder for a very strong green color.

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  • Wan Izy

    I’ve just find this post. In malaysia, we make blue dye using a kind of flower. We called it Bunga Telang, or in English is called Clitoria. The flower is boiled down until we get the ectract and it doesnt give any flavour, just nice blue color. Hope this helps.