You have probably noticed that all-natural food dyes have gone mainstream, thanks to concerns about artificial food dyes. So whether you want to buy all-natural food coloring or go the DIY route, getting artificial colors out of your--and your kids'--diets is easier than ever.
Pink and red — Making pink food dye is as easy as blending up red raspberries and then straining the juice. It also adds a light raspberry flavor, which is perfect for any berry-themed desserts. If you want to create a deeper red, say for red velvet doughnuts, give beet powder a try. Powdered beets are more widely available than ever; Love Beets has just launched You can now buy powdered beets from lots of different companies, including a new product from Love Beets. Simply combine the powder with cold water (about ¼ teaspoon of powder to 1 teaspoon of water), stir, and strain through cheesecloth. Use less powder for a lighter color. Though the flavor of beets can be polarizing, the powder works well in baked goods and doesn't add much flavor at all. The beet dye is also ideal for Easter eggs.
Yellow and orange — These sunny colors can be achieved easily with ground turmeric. Turmeric not only has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, if you've worked with it, you know it has the power to stain just about anything it comes in contact with, making it a wonderful natural dye. Combine ½ teaspoon ground turmeric with ¼ cup water, bring to a boil for 3 minutes, and cool before using. This works well for cakes, frosting, and eggs.
Green — Traditionally, naturally-derived green food coloring has been very difficult to create. Your best option was to cook, blend, and strain spinach. These days, cooks can use spirulina powder, which is made from blue-green algae. Find spirulina powder in health food stores and online. It does have a somewhat earthy flavor, so test it out before you commit to using it to frost your 4-year-old son's dinosaur cake.
Purple — You might think you'd turn to blueberries to make a blue food color, but the anthocyanins in the berry's skin actually create a rich purple hue. Wild blueberries work better than cultivated ones because they have a higher skin to pulp ratio, and the skin is where those natural food colors live. To make, puree 1 cup defrosted wild blueberries and 2 tablespoons water in a blender. Strain the mixture though a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth if you want to remove all fruity bits. Add a little of the juice for a lovely lavender color (amazing for making a Sofia the First cake) or more for a deeper violet tone. The juice can also be used to tint eggs and baked goods.
Blue — A true blue is very tricky to create naturally, but it can be done! Blogger Whole New Mom swears by this method. Take ½ of a red cabbage, and chop it up. Add it to a pot, cover with water and simmer for 10 minutes until the purple color releases into the water. Drain the cabbage, reserving the purple water. The key to turning the water blue is to add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. As you stir, the alkalinity of the baking soda creates the color change. But know that it also will affect the flavor of the food you add it to. Because this mixture is sensitive to heat, it's not great when used to make a cake, but it will work to color frosting, eggs, or dried coconut (Cookie Monster cupcakes anyone?).
As with any dye, natural dyes should be added a little at a time until you've achieved the desired color. Most homemade dyes are best used soon after they're made, but you can freeze them in ice cubes trays to use later on.
No worries if making your own food dye sounds like way too much work (we hear you). McCormick's Color From Nature kit contains resealable packets of Sky Blue, Berry (pink), and Sunflower (yellow) food colors that instantly add beautiful color to frosting and cakes. And J.R. Watkins sells a natural food coloring set that includes red, yellow, green, and blue to brighten up everything from yogurt to frosting, whipped cream, and Easter eggs.
Whatever type of natural food coloring you use, it probably won't create the same intense color that you've seen on grocery store cakes. But you can feel great about the fact that it's naturally beautiful, safe, and delicious.