Thursday, 13 May 2010

Natural Food Colourings

When I was growing up, my mother would use artificial food colouring for only two dishes: deep red for the Tandoori chicken; and every other food colour dye was used for a sweet rice with raisins, coconut and almonds (dubbed rainbow rice). Both these dishes were made for special or celebratory occasions.

I have never used artificial food colouring in any of my cooking ever, but a little while back I had wanted to experiment and make some novelty cakes with colour. I have struggled to find decent natural food colouring, those that are available via specialist stores are either too expensive, or not very good as the colours are not intense you want. I even did my research and read of ways to get natural colouring into your food without resorting to artificial food dyes.
Yellow – mix powdered turmeric with a little hot water.
Pink – The liquid of canned beetroot will give a pale pink.
Red – cook raspberries over a gentle heat, until very thick, the colour would be a reddish pink.
Violet – cook blueberries over a gentle heat, stirring often, until very thick.
Green – Use freshly juiced spinach.
Brown – Use sifted cocoa or carob powder.
Which is all fine and dandy if all you want is one particular colour, but what if I wanted a range of colours to be on hand for when I had the desire to conjure up some iced cakes. Plus I have to admit, I do know if I would have the patience or dedication to always make these from scratch. So I was nearing to making a compromise with myself to use artificial food colourings. The justification to myself was because I don’t use food colouring that often, I would only use it tentatively and on certain occasions. But then fortunately, I came across one of the supermarket stores in the UK that had its own brand of natural food colouring. The colour red was achieved with a balance of paprika and curcumin. Pink colouring includes beetroot extract, while yellow has turmeric root and blue with spirulina.
Oh my goodness could it really be true and for a fraction of the price from those specialist stores on the internet charging extortionate prices. Well I picked up some of the tiny bottles. I had tried the red in a meringue to achieve a pink cream, not a red cream and a green in my St Patricks day scones. Well a few months ago, I attempted to have a go at the famous rainbow cake, from which many other versions including cupcakes have evolved.

Oh my goodness, not only did it come out of the oven looking like dirty sponge, it tasted pretty awful too. It was so terrible looking that I dare not take a photograph to share with you, just in case it left you with a shudder and eeky feeling and that’s not good on a food blog. Plus the last thing I want to do is put anyone of a rainbow cake. To be fair, these may have been designed purely for colouring cake icing, but that is not made clear on the label. Mmm I may have try that, if it doesn't work, then I may have to go back to my original plan and compromise in using artificial colours, a little and not too often. I’ll think about it.


  1. oh dear, that doesn't sound good!
    i use morrison's natural food colourings in my cake icing and they work well for that. i love the idea of making your own but for my cake icings i need them to be flavour free as they already have the desired flavour in them.

  2. I think kitchen disasters can be just as interesting as successes, even though I'm sorry your cake didn't work out. I hope the next attempt goes better! Also, that rainbow rice sounds delicious!

  3. I've been looking everywhere for natural colourings that don't cost the earth! I've tried a few natural ones with similar results to you too :(

  4. Thank you for such a wonderful article.

  5. Clare,
    I think these would work well for the cake icing too, just not for the sponge part of the cake. I used them in the St Patrick scones for the cream, and the cream did not taste very nice at all :(

    Yes your right, if you don't try - you don't know the result. The rainbow rice is lovely, I haven't had it in a long, long while. Next time I see my mother, i shall ask her to either make me some or give me the recipe.

    Welcome and Thank you for your comment Vegan Family. Congratulations on your new addition to the family.

    I am thankful to read that I am not the only one to have had a poor experience with natural food colouring. Thank you for sharing. It has been appreciated.

    Thank you Kiran.

  6. I've been going through exactly the same thought processes as you regarding food colourings! I soemtimes make vegan cupcakes for stalls and I'd love the icing to be a nice colour, but couldn't bear to use the chemically coloured food dyes that are available. So far, I've compromised with just using fancy coloured cupcake cases, but I think I'll give those Morrisons natural colours a try...
    Sorry your rainbow cake didn't work out. It's a real pain when you've gone to all the work of making something, for it not to turn out well. :(

  7. Thanks for your comment Penny.
    The natural colour bottles that I used was Asdas own brand. Try them. I think they would work in icing.

  8. I might give those a go too Mangocheeks. I would only use it for icing or frosting and don't feel happy using the artificial colouring, although I have used it in frosting twice this week.

  9. Jaqueline.
    I am going to have a go doing the same too.

  10. Thanks for posting this! I hate artificial colors and would also love to come up with natural (unflavored) ways to color icings and cakes.
    It's too bad about your rainbow cake - but you won't know how anything will turn out until you at least try ;-)

  11. I grew up with artificial colouring as part of my mum's cooking though mainly pink (which isn't always vegetarian). I saw some natural food dyes recently but they were very expensive and already past their best by date so I couldn't justify buying them. But I would be interested to try these. Shame about your rainbow cake - the mixture looks wonderful especially the red colour which is hard to get with artificial dyes - I look forward to your further experiements

  12. Great tips! I always avoid food colorings and usually just end up with bland looking food, but now I will try some of your suggestions. Thanks!

  13. just saw this post and thought it might be interesting to you if you haven't seen it - susan's experiments with natural colours

  14. Thanks Grapefruit.
    Your right, if you don't try how will you know of the result.

    Thank you so much for you comment and sharing the link above. I am my other readers will def. check it out.

    These bottles from the supermarket were reasonably priced under £1. I will have to see how they work with cake icicig, but no rainbow style sponge cakes thats for sure.

    Your welcome msmeanie.

  15. Ahh, yeah. I haven't cooked with food coloring in ages and the natural-type colorings are way too expensive to even bother. And I rarely need to use food coloring so if the opportunity ever came up it'd be for a special occasion so I'd be too scared to try to make my own food colorings lest I mess it up. I think once upon a blue moon it's fine to use a little artificial food coloring. :)

    Oh, and I am so jealous of your garden!

  16. Mo,
    Thank you so much for sharing your comment and coming to a similar conclusion as me

    And Thanks for the comment re my tiny garden plot :D


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