I’ll be posting a naturally dyed rainbow cake soon, however first, let’s look at how to actually make your all-natural, non-toxic food dye, specifically for baked goods. First read pros and cons of rainbow baked goods made with natural food coloring and dyes, then look at the basic Q&A below.
What sort of baked goods can be dyed with homemade food coloring?
All sorts of goodies from cakes to cookies to pastries to pancakes and more. It’s best to start with a baked goods recipe that yields a whiter, not more yellow batter though. These homemade dyes also work for coloring frosting.
Can you make juicer-free homemade food coloring?
If you start looking around the web, you’ll notice that most recipes for homemade dyes involve a juicer. That’s all good and fine if you already have OR really want a juicer, but what about if you don’t?
A good juicer is expensive, takes up space and I’d ONLY use it for dyes, so for me a juicer would be a terrible purchase. Thus, a while back, I went about learning to make food dyes sans juicer. So, if you have a juicer – great, this will go a bit quicker. If you don’t have one, no worries, you can make homemade dyes too, and it only takes a wee bit more effort.
What can you use to make homemade food dyes?
- All sorts of produce for a rainbow of colors.
- Green tea powder.
- Some edible flowers.
- Store-bought natural food dyes. I currently use Chocolate craft natural liquid food colors.
- Egg yolk (for yellow).
- Many spices and herbs – although these add more flavor than produce.
Should you go organic?
Of course! I use all organic produce to make my food dyes, but also two non-organic items. I use Chocolate Craft liquid food colors (all-natural but not organic) and my current green tea powder (Matcha) is not organic either.
What is green tea powder (Matcha)?
This fine green powder is available at many natural food shops, Japanese grocers or online, and it will color baked goods green. Look for powder, not leaf tea. I was at Whole Foods and they didn’t have organic though, they had Rishi Tea Sweet Matcha, so I’m using that. You don’t need Matcha to color food, but you can use it. If you don’t want it, spinach will work a-ok too.
Do I need to use fresh produce?
No. If making a winter cake, you can use frozen organic fruits and veggies to make homemade dyes. Or in some cases, jarred if you can find it, say, with the carrot juice or beets.
IMPORTANT!: When it comes to green dye, spinach is great, however, unlike other produce, which is fine frozen for dyes, frozen spinach will yield icky green coloring results. ALWAYS use fresh organic spinach to make green dye.
How long can you save homemade food colors?
There’s some debate about this. Some say you can save it for a bit – about one or two weeks, sealed in a jar in the fridge, others say don’t even try. I’ve saved dye for up to a week and it’s been fine. In my opinion, making the dye for baked goods or frosting IS something you can do ahead of time, so long as you’re baking sooner, not later.
How much fruit or veggie juice do you need to use to dye batter?
It varies depending on which produce you’re using. Keep the following in mind…
When using veggie or fruit juice to dye batter, you’re making your batter more liquid than normal. Due to this, I tend to leave some liquid (whether water or milk) out of the recipe at first. For example, if your cake recipe calls for 1 and 1/2 cups of milk, I’d add the one cup, and hold back on the 1/2 until you see how much juice is needed to color your batter.
Most batters need 1-3 tablespoons of veggie or fruit juice (depending on amount of batter used).
My colors look wrong
When mixing up naturally dyed foods, the color you see before baking is not always the color you’ll get after baking. Natural food dyes are temperamental. That’s a con for sure, but if you work at it, you’ll be able to adjust your colors for more success every time you bake.
Also note, colors on top of baked goods may not look as vibrant (or could look more vibrant) than the interior of the item, as shown in the image below of white cake colored with beet puree.
How come my colors don’t look as vibrant as chemical colors?
Type in “rainbow food” on Pinterest or the Internet, and a slew of brightly colored baked goods will pop up. Most of those recipes are made with chemical, store-bought food coloring. Sure they offer eye-popping color, but at what cost? Naturally colored food is not as vivid (usually) as fake colored food, but you should learn to live with that. There’s no reason to give your kid cake or cookies colored with Red 40 or Yellow 5. Get used to how colors from nature look – more muted sure, but lovely in their own way.
Will my baked goods taste like spinach and beets!
If you use minimal amounts of coloring and other flavors in your batters (extracts, citrus, etc.) your baked goods will taste normal. Sometimes with produce there is minimal flavoring added when using homemade dyes, but it’s never been noticeable to anyone. In fact, my partner just took a ton of cake I made with natural food coloring into his work and no one knew I used produce to color the batter. They all thought it was plain old vanilla cake.
Some natural coloring, including tea powder, egg yolk, herbs, spices, plus some flowers will add more flavor though, which is why I suggest using produce for baked goods first.
Are produce juices or purees better?
Juices and purees exhibit different colors. Normally, purees create brighter colors than juice, however, purees aren’t always suitable, because one, they add a touch of flavor and two, often you’ve got seeds to contend with (say, with raspberries for instance). In the case of spinach, I would not use a puree, only the juice to avoid too strong a taste, but with berries, I’ll often use the puree for brighter colors. Experiment then use your best judgment.
What colors to make…?
Obviously if you’re making a rainbow cake vs. a batch of frosting vs. all-pink princess cookies, your food dye needs will vary. In order to help you make some decisions about which colors of dye to make, the slideshow below features various naturally dyed slices of cake, which will give you a rough idea about which foods yield which colors.
Each piece of colored cake is shown along side a slice of white, uncolored cake to give you a feeling for contrast.
Getting ready to make natural food dye for baked goods
*IMPORTANT NOTE: Before you begin making your dyes, get some cleaning cloths out. Natural dyes, although natural DO dye everything. I still have beet and blueberry stains on some clothing and my counter, because once I didn’t clean as I went. Be very sure to clean up as you go. If juice spills on the counter or a favorite plate, clean it right away, and for pete’s sake DO NOT wear your favorite white shirt as you do this.
Gather everything you need to make natural food dyes. In this case, I’ll be explaining how to make colorful dyes using the following….
- Chocolate craft natural liquid food colors
- Green tea powder
- Fresh spinach
- Egg yolk
Equipment you’ll need
- Blender – which I hope you already have for homemade ice pops
- Juicer, TINY-holed strainer, reusable coffee filter or mesh cloth (or bags)
- Regular strainer
Method for making various natural food dyes
RASPBERRY JUICE & PUREE: Heat up washed fresh or frozen berries in the microwave or in a pot, until heated through. Heating makes it easier to get the juice. Puree in the blender. To get juice from your raspberries (sans seeds) place your puree (or even whole heated berries) into a fine mesh cloth or bag or super tiny strainer. I had neither mesh cloth or a tiny strainer the other day, so I decided to use my reusable coffee filter, which was slow-going but worked awesome. I place my filter into a bowl, set the berries in it, and left it alone for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Juice was the end result!
SPINACH JUICE: Do not use frozen spinach – only fresh! Wash your fresh spinach then remove the stems. If you’ve got a juicer, go for it. If you don’t have a juicer, blend about 2 cups of spinach with 3 tablespoons water in your blender. Pour your puree into a fine mesh cloth and squeeze into bowl to get your juice. If you don’t have a mesh cloth, use the reusable coffee filter method I talk about above in the raspberry section – this works AMAZINGLY well for getting juice from spinach.
CARROT PUREE & JUICE: I don’t normally use carrot juice for dye, because it’s not very bright. But a darker carrot may yield better results. Wash and cut a large organic carrot into chunks. Use your juicer to get juice OR if you are sans juicer do the following. Boil or steam until soft. Puree in blender with 3 tablespoons of water. If you’re good with puree, you’re done. If you want juice, place your puree into a fine mesh cloth or into a reusable coffee filter (as discussed in the raspberry section above).
BEET PUREE & JUICE: Juice in a juicer or use juice from jarred beets. If using fresh, peel and wash a medium sized beet. Cut into chunks and boil or steam until soft. Puree in blender with 3 tablespoons water. If you’re good with puree, you’re done. If you want juice, place your puree into a fine mesh cloth or into a reusable coffee filter (as discussed in the raspberry section above).
STRAWBERRY, BLUEBERRY OR BLACKBERRY JUICE & PUREE: Wash fresh berries or use frozen. Heat up to allow the juices to be released using a pot or microwave. For juice, place berries into a strainer and mash down with your spoon, a pastry blender or your hands. To get puree, take what’s left of the berries in the strainer, place in blender and puree. Sometimes, if you’ve taken most of the juice from the berries, you’ll need to add a tablespoon of water to your blender as you puree.
EGG YOLK: Don’t need to make ahead of time. When you’re ready to color white batter yellow, simply mix a tablespoon of egg yolk into the batter. Chocolate craft natural liquid food colors
GREEN TEA POWDER: Don’t need to make ahead of time. When you’re ready to color batter green, add a teaspoon of powder at a time until desired color is achieved.
CHOCOLATE CRAFT NATURAL FOOD COLORING: Don’t need to make ahead of time. When you’re ready to color your batter, simply add drops of food dye until desired color is achieved.
When you’re done making your dyes
Place them in the fridge until you’re ready to use them. I like to put them on a cookie sheet lined with paper, so I can jot down which juice and puree is which – many will look alike.
Coming up, a recipe for rainbow cake made with the natural dyes above.