This post may contain affiliate links, including those from Amazon.com. These links keep this site running, so thank you for your support!

Homemade Food Coloring: How to Make Natural Food Dyes

How to Make Natural Food Dyes | NourishingJoy.com

So, I’ve written a fair bit here at Nourishing Joy about natural food dyes.

However, the first post I put up on the subject was Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs, which is a very helpful post if you’re making Easter eggs, but as time has gone on, I’ve realized the post hasn’t been all that helpful for other food-related uses, such as buttercream and play dough, even though I’ve tried to maintain a helpful list of other natural food dyes on that post.

So, since I’ve been recently editing the list of natural food dyes that I’m including in my upcoming book, The DIY Pantry, I’ve decided it’s high-time to give homemade natural food dyes their rightful place in a post all their own.

{It’s about time, don’t you think?}

So, without further ado, I give you homemade, natural food dyes!

 

Natural Food Dyes

 

Three things to keep in mind:

1. Natural colorants often lend a more demure hue than their petroleum-laden cousins. This is merely due to ratios : a concentrated store-bought food coloring requires only a few drops to add color and thus doesn’t change the texture of the food by adding vast amounts of liquid. By comparison, it’s difficult to get a true “red” from beet juice rather than just pink, not because the beet juice isn’t red enough, but because most recipes can’t stand up to the amount of liquid required to obtain a true red.

On the other hand, just a few drops of beet juice will create an absolutely lovely pink in frostings and ice creams without adding even a hint of beet flavor. (See the list below for a number of gorgeous examples….)

2. Since these colorants are foods themselves, remember that strongly colored foods also tend to be strongly flavored foods, so try – as much as possible – to avoid using large quantities of any of these (a small amount of cinnamon, for example, might make a frosting heavenly, but a large amount would render it inedible).

Also keep your final flavor in mind so that the colorants don’t overwhelm it. I’m assuming you don’t necessarily want paprika spiked buttercream or parsley ice cream! Again, small amounts of those colorants won’t even be noticable, but large amounts most certainly will.

3. Lastly, vegetable powders are great ways to add vivid colors without adding excess liquid, so if you’re wanting a deep red, for example, use beet powder rather than beet juice. (See even farther below for a quick tutorial on how to make vegetable powders.)

 

How to Make Natural Food Dyes | NourishingJoy.com

 

Natural Food Dyes / Homemade Food Coloring

 Start with a small pinch or a few drops of these colorants and add more according to your desired shade.

Red: pure beet juice, pure pomegranate juice, beet powder

Pink: pure beet juice, pure cranberry juice

Orange: pure carrot juice, carrot powder, paprika

Yellow: ground turmeric, fresh turmeric juice, saffron

Green: matcha powder, spirulina powder, parsley juice, wheatgrass juice, spinach juice, spinach powder, parsley powder

Blue: pure blueberry juice, red cabbage leaves chopped and boiled for ½ hour—use the dyed water as your colorant

Purple: purple grape juice

Tan: bentonite clay powder (bentonite is an edible clay) – use sparingly

Brown: instant coffee granules, pure espresso, heavily steeped black tea, cocoa powder, cinnamon

Black: activated charcoal powder (yes, it’s safe to eat and even beneficial!), squid ink (see where to buy squid ink)

 

And of course, if you can’t get the color you want from making your own homemade natural food dyes, you can always buy a vegetable-based food coloring, but they’re pricey: See Vegetable-based food coloring.

 

See recipes that feature natural food dyes

Pretty Pink Buttercream

Homemade Play Dough

Naturally-Colored Rainbow Cake

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Matcha Shortbread

Strawberry Ice Cream

Rhubarb Marshmallows

Fresh Homemade Pasta

Perfect Yellow Mustard

And one example of one recipe that totally FAILED with natural food dyes: Homemade Crayons

 

How to Make Vegetable Powders for Natural Food Dyes

To make any herb or vegetable powder called for here, slice the desired vegetable paper thin (or merely place whole herbs or berries on a tray) and dehydrate in a food dehydrator or oven set at about 150° until fully, absolutely, completely dry (2-6 hours, depending on the vegetable).

Place dried vegetable/fruit chips or herbs in a coffee grinder or blender and grind until you have a fine powder.

Store in an airtight container for up to 1 year.

 

UPDATE: Using natural dyes as natural fabric dyes

In the comments, several people have wondered about using these natural food dyes for dyeing fabric. I am woefully ignorant in this regard, but I just ran across a post that might be helpful: Condo Blues: How to Dye a Shirt Minion Yellow with Turmeric.

This woman dyed a white t-shirt bright yellow using ground tumeric and gives detailed instructions and notes. So, perhaps the same process would work with beet juice or other natural dyes? I don’t know – has anyone else tried it? Does the dye stay once it’s been set?

Print Friendly

This post may contain affiliate links, including those from Amazon.com. These links keep this site running, so thank you for your support!

Comments

  1. Lyz Foster says

    Love this!!! I have been looking for ways to naturally color my soaps and thanks to you I have a whole new arsenal to work with, not sure why I didn’t think of it, but thank you :))

    • Kresha says

      You’re welcome! I’ve only used micas in my soaps, so now you’ve given a good idea too! I’ve seen activated charcoal in soap before – I would how beet powder would do? ;-)

      Good luck and have fun!

      • Lyz says

        Oh I can’t wait to try the beet powder, can’t imagine the colors!!! The tumeric so far is my favorite, a nice coppery color.

  2. Tracy Spangler says

    Thanks so much for posting this! It came at the perfect time! I’m trying to see what plant based dyes will work best with chapstick, and crayons!

    • Kresha says

      Fabulous! I’d love to hear your results! I suspect that you’ll need to use dry powders, as my attempts at crayons with liquid natural colorants were a major fail. ;-)

    • Wendy says

      I’ve been wanting to try natural colorants in my lip balm recipes as well. Which do you think will work better, powders or liquid

      • Kresha says

        Hmmm… well, if you’re only going to use a few drops, a concentrated liquid, like beet juice, might work just fine, but if it’s more than a few drops, you’ll likely offset the chemistry that’s happening between the oils and it would either soften them too much, keep them from setting, or seep out if the lip balm was ever set in a warm place.

        Thus, powders would likely be more stable and more potent, but I don’t know at what point they would make the lip balm go from smooth and satiny to grainy. I suspect mica powders are used in commercial brands, so I’m sure it’s possible.

        Was that helpful? Or clear as mud? :-)

        • Wendy says

          Thank you for you input. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before, but I’ve used cocoa powder before without it getting grainy so I suspect beet powder may work as well. I will try a small batch.

          • Kristen F. says

            I have tried everything to naturally color my home made lip balm and nothing works. Beet root powder is like adding sand, and beet juice does not mix in with the fats and beeswax. I even tried to use organic glycerine and seeped beets and beet powder in it and that didn’t work either. If anyone knows a sure fire was to naturally color lip balm please let me know…thanks!

          • Kresha Faber says

            Kristen,

            I’ll put this in my notes to research.

            In the meantime, I know the store-bought “natural” lip balms often list mica as the colorant. Is that an ingredient you’d be willing to use or would you prefer to stay with various food-based colorants?

  3. Kerri Mayo says

    I’m going to experiment with beet powder. My son wants a fireman birthday cake. Can’t wait to try it! Thank you!

    • Maria says

      Kerri, just curious about how the fireman cake turned out. I’m looking to make a superhero cake for my daughter and I was also thinking about using beet powder. Hope you can let me know. Thanks :)

  4. Katrina says

    I appreciate this – lots more ideas for dyeing cottons a variety of colors. Is there a preferred way to use these for cottons? :D

    • Kresha says

      I have NO idea but I’m definitely intrigued! :-) I’m sorry I can’t be of more help.

      I’ve never tried these on fabrics, so DEFINITELY do a test run and see how much the colors bleed in the wash before doing large scale projects. And then please let us know how it goes – like I said, my interest is very piqued!

      • Katrina says

        Thank you, Kresha. This is a future project but will come back with results. I hae used different teas to dye cotton for an aged effect so am looking forward to experimenting with this. :)

        • Lyz says

          Ok this took some time, but according to my sources, food dyes weren’t really used for clothing, simply because there was no way to “set” in the colors, they used them for rugs and such, things that weren’t washed all the time or never, as the color would bleed out. I know this isn’t helpful, but I’m thinking with a little web searching you may be able to find a way to set the colors.

          • Laura B says

            Dharma Trading company not only sells natural fabric dyes and mordants (the stuff that sets the dye in fabric) but they have tons of information on their web site as well as a very knowledgable staff–if you call.
            For me, I found you looking for natural food coloring. We (finaly discovered) that our kids are VERY sensitive to artificial colors. They might as well use meth as have a cupcake with red frosting–or one of the millions of things that have color (especially red #40). About 15 minutes after ingesting food that is artificially colored they start to act wild, completely out of control. Since we have given it up entirely at our house I am always looking for ways to provide healty treats that don’t make them feel like they are missing out, especially around the holidays. Thank you so much for the tip about using veggie powders. We have been buying the very expensive natural food coloring to do our christmas cokies but this year we have something new to try!!! Thank you!!!

    • Lyz says

      I live in NM, home of the Navajo Nation, master crafters of all I swear. They use natural dyes for their wools to make their blankets and so forth. I will see if I can ask around as to what is best for “setting” the color. I know just the person to start with too :)

      • Kresha says

        Oh, that’s wonderful! Yes, you are so right – the Navajo are amazing weavers and crafters. I will definitely look forward to hearing about what you hear!!! Thank you so much.

      • Claire says

        I am also curious about dying fabrics – I have been eating beets a lot lately and I boil them. The remaining water is a beautiful color.

  5. Laurie says

    I love your ideas! HOWEVER……the natural vegetable based colorings you link to as a recommendation (India Tree) uses Sodium hydroxide as an additive in their yellow coloring! This Is a poisonous ingredient! Paste this link into your browser and see………. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002487.htm
    We all need to be diligent and read every ingredient, even though a product advertises itself as natural. I will, however, use the ingredients you suggested……

    • Kresha says

      Yes, I have sodium hydroxide in my cupboard to make soap. It is indeed toxic. :-)

      However, I’m curious why you say the India Tree colors have sodium hydroxide, as on India Tree’s own website, they state that the only ingredients in their yellow dye are deionized water, glycerin, and turmeric: http://www.indiatree.com/Detail_Page.php?Category=NC&Subcategory=NC_Decorating_Set&SKU=90950

      Perhaps it’s different in different countries???? I don’t know where you are, but perhaps they have different formulations, or have changed their formulation?

      Thank you, though, for the always-needed reminder to check every ingredient, even on products that claim to be “natural.” :-)

      • Toute Swite says

        As my dermatologist says about “natural” products – “Poison Ivy is natural, but would you want it on your skin?” Good discussion, though. Many thanks to you all for some great ideas.

    • teresa says

      actually, lye is a natural ingredient, it is achieved by dripping water (rain water is best-no chemical additives) through wood ash. the liquid is then boiled til a chicken feather melts when placed in the liquid.
      it was used to make soaps for centuries. yes, it is dangerous and caustic and should be used with precautions but i don’t view it as NOT natural.

      • teresa says

        oops, my computer posted before i was done.
        lye or soduim hydroxide is normally neutralized by the heating (either in cold process soap making or hot process soap making) and therefore not harmfull.
        if someone is putting it into food or body products, there is a different issue going on because it will burn like mad on the skin (ask me how i know.)
        the only way to neutralize lye without cooking is using vinegar (yes, it give instant relief on the back of hand or finger that touched it.)

  6. Michelle says

    Hi I’m going to attempt to make my sons first birthday cake and want to make it blue, could I make a blueberry powder? Would that work?

    • Kresha Faber says

      How fun!

      And yes, I would think a blueberry powder might work very well, but it will take a few days to dehydrate, as they’re pretty juicy. :) Also, how blue are you wanting it? Like Cookie Monster blue or a light pastel blue? If you’re wanting a deeper blue, I would definitely choose a cake that tastes good with blueberry, as if you’re wanting a deep blue, the flavor will definitely come through.

      I hope that helps!

      • Wendi says

        Hi Kresha,

        I came across your site looking for ideas for natural food colorings. As far as blueberries go, since the berry itself is not blue (sort of brownish/yellowish) couldn’t you pop the berry out of the skin, enjoy the berry (as in eating it), and dry the skins to pulverize?

        I think that would also mitigate the flavoring you would get from the coloring. I may not have a clue what I am talking about since I have not tried to make food colorings, but I do eat blueberries. :)

        • Kresha Faber says

          I haven’t tried it, but that sounds like a fantastic idea! It might take awhile to pop all the berries out, but it would shorten the drying time considerably for sure.

          Thanks for a great tip! (And if anyone tries this before I get a chance to, please let us know how it goes! :-) )

    • Kim says

      to make a blue colour boil red cabbage between 10 – 30 minutes strain the liquid the add less than 1/2 teaspoon bicarb soda (baking soda). the bicarb changes the ph which changes the liquid from purple to blue

    • Kresha Faber says

      I haven’t, but I know Robin over at ThankYourBody.com has done a lot with homemade natural make-ups, so perhaps ask there too! :-)

  7. Cassandra says

    I am considering using this in homemade hand soap. If I use beet juice do you think that will stain hands add they use the soap? Thank you.

    • Kresha Faber says

      Hmmm… I think if you use just a small amount, it wouldn’t be noticeable, but for any really defined pink, it might! I haven’t tried it, so I can’t say, but would it be possible to add just to one bar to try? Or do you use a block mold for your bars? If it’s liquid soap, could you try it in just a small amount?

      (And if you do, please let us know how it worked! I know others are wondering the same thing!)

  8. Kelcey says

    I wanted a natural food coloring for some frosting for Valentines Day. I didn’t have time to drive all the way in to my Whole Foods store, so I googled natural food colorings and found your site. When I read about the beet powder I remembered that I had a beet powder supplement in capsules. I just opened a few of them and added it to the frosting to the desired color. They worked beautifully with no discernible taste. Thanks for the great idea!

  9. Shannon says

    Thank you so much., we recently found out my son is allergic to artificial food dyes (maybe flavor too) and it’s so hard to see everyone enjoy colorful cookies except him:( this will definitely make him a happier 7 year old!!

  10. says

    Good Morning :-) Thank you so much for this very informative post! I have begun making my own dyes as well so that my children can enjoy the brightly colored treats! I am the blog author of Three Kids And A Fish and I am writing a post today on natural food coloring, and I wanted to let you know that I mention this post as a great place to go to know what to use to make your own natural food coloring! Again, thank you very much!
    Cathy
    http://www.threekidsandafish.com

  11. Julie says

    I own a juice bar so it seems to me you could run the vegetable through a juicier and then dehydratethe pulp and then grind it up….just a thought….

  12. P.J. says

    I want to create some black (or at least pretty black) wooden kitchen and serving pieces: cutting boards, a salad bowl… (and a challah board), and I can’t find a wood dark enough. Do you think the charcoal powder would work and be food safe on wood? How would you apply it? Thanks!

    • Kresha Faber says

      Oh, goodness. That’s a great idea and unfortunately I don’t have any expertise in this! If you use activated charcoal, it should be fine, food-safe-wise, but I don’t have any ideas on how to actually stain the wood. Perhaps rub charcoal and olive oil alternatively into the wood in several coats, like you do when you’re oiling a new cutting board? I have no idea if that would actually work? But honestly, I think that would give a shadow to the wood, but wouldn’t actually give a lovely deep dark stain to it.

      Do any other readers have any ideas?

      Thanks for a great question!

      • Willis says

        Fantastic article! Thanks for sharing!

        I would think squid ink would make an excellent dye for wood utensils and boards. Certainly food-safe, and I would think pretty effective.

        Would love to hear about the results if you decide to try it P.J.

  13. says

    You can also take dried hibiscus flowers and crush them with a mortar and pestle, or make a powder in a food processor. This gives a pink hue when added to dishes. The hibiscus I buy is a loose-leaf tea. It tends to add a sour strawberry-like taste to foods.
    Annatto can also be used to color foods yellow. From my experience, it needs fat to bring out the color. Like adding butter to cake batter. I tried dye-ing soup with it, but it would not dye the liquid, only the fat floating on top. Used the pure seeds in a tea-infuser, maybe it would be different crushed?

  14. Kerri says

    This is great…I try to reduce artificial dyes from my sons diet…but eliminated red40 altogether…but don’t want him feeling left out when decorating cookies or cakes…does the charcoal powder or squid ink have a strange taste at all?

    • Kresha Faber says

      It depends on how much you use and in what application. For example, are you just making typical chocolate cupcakes or are you making a soccer ball cake where you want half the frosting very black? Those two may require different amounts of dye.

      For black frosting, I would actually tint the frosting green first to get it dark, along with a strong flavor such as vanilla, then add the charcoal or squid ink. (I suspect squid ink may vary by brand as well. The one linked to above is the only brand I’ve used and it’s rather mild – you have to use a fair bit before you actually taste or smell anything but the frosting.) As for the charcoal, it should be ground very very fine, like cocoa powder, if you’re going to use it in something silky and soft like frosting. A mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder work well for this.

      This also would be an excellent application in which to use chocolate. That way you can get the frosting quite dark and quite strongly flavored before you even add the charcoal or the squid ink, so you don’t need as much.

      So, good luck and I hope that helps!

  15. Jen says

    Wow! I was so excited when I found this. My 11 year old was been baking and we have had a lot of fun experimenting. I can’t believe the beauty of the colors!!! They are better than artificial. The carrot juice made a beautiful yellow as well as orange. The beet juice was beautiful. It was fun to experiment with different shades. After juicing them, I put the leftovers in ice cube trays and froze them and we used them again! Have you tried Or have any suggestions about coloring candy(white chocolate)? Maybe powders because I don’t think it is suppose to get “wet”.

    • Kresha Faber says

      Yay! And what a great idea to freeze the leftovers! I’m going to have to do that the next time I juice…. ;-)

      I haven’t tried coloring white chocolate, but my instinct is the same as yours – to use a very fine powder with the melted chocolate. Any liquid could definitely make the chocolate seize and turn grainy.

      Thanks for a great comment!

  16. Annabelle says

    I was thinking of making my own Tempera paint with natural colouring. Do you think these recipes would work for paints? Thank you

    • Kresha Faber says

      Hmm…. that’s a great question! I would think if you use powders or very concentrated liquids (by reducing them on a simmer on the stove) and then mixing them in your egg yolks, that could work very well. There’s a great link about this over on our How to Make Crayons post, because during my first foray into making crayons we tried every natural colorant in the book. ;-)

      http://nourishingjoy.com/how-to-make-crayons/

  17. lisa says

    i would love to know if you have tried any of these in either melt and pour soap or cp and how it turned out.

    • Kresha Faber says

      I have not tried them in melt and pour soaps, but I’ve tried beet powder and activated charcoal in cold process soap and they worked wonderfully. I haven’t tried any juices or liquids in cold process soaps, but I suspect the chemical reaction might change the color. (Like when I used them in crayons….) But again, I haven’t tried it, so who knows. ;)

  18. says

    Excellent for natural cool rants. Not checked out the rest of the site yet but this was the reason I was researching today. My children like red velvet. I tried it with the beet root but found it too wet, too much beet root, probably. My main man would like a football (something to do with soccer, that is) cake so I am thinking of either a football pitch or a team shirt so reds, yellows and green are perfect.

    Let you know how it turns out.

    Well done Kresha

  19. Domonique McDaniel says

    Hi you talking about food coloring because I’m going to do it with my mom today. I like food coloring .

  20. Dave says

    Hi! Thanks for the article, it’s very informative. I going to stain some untreated new wood and was curious how much of the stain would oxidize over time, like the purple in the beets turning brownish. And if this happens only with fresh beat juice as apposed to beet powder.

    Any experience with this?

    Thank you!

    • Kresha Faber says

      Ai! I have no idea. It’s a GREAT question, but I have no experience with this. Anyone else care to chime in or point us in the right direction?

  21. lydia says

    I love this article and all of the comments. Thanks for posting. I’m interested in using spinach juice to color my bath bombs. But I’m worried about it spoiling. I left the juice out for 3 days and it started smelling funky. How can I preserve the juice in the bath bomb so it can be stored for a long period of time? I’ve been wracking my brain thinking of ways to do this but haven’t come up with a good solution. Hoping you can help. :)

    • Kresha Faber says

      Hmmm… Well, do you use citric acid in your bath bombs? That would certainly act as a preservative, as would salt. However, I have no idea HOW long the shelf life would be. Anyone else have any experience with this?

      Sounds like a great project for St. Patrick’s Day, too! Oh, the possibilities…. :)

  22. Joan Haris says

    After introducing fresh beets at dinner to Grandchildren tonight and having them actually eat some we got into discussion of using red beet juice for dying.. Can one dye some simple tee shirts as a project for them and get a fairly bright color?. Their enthusiasm is high about such a project and I want to take advantage of it. Would putting beets in a blender with water get to the consistency where I could achieve a bright color?. I really want to seize the moment and get them involved in creating something for them to show off to their friends..

    • Kresha Faber says

      That would be SO cool!

      Let’s see – I haven’t tried dying fabric with beet juice, but after seeing the turmeric dying tutorial linked above, I have high hopes. If so, I don’t think blending raw beets with water would be potent enough – I think you’d need to juice them so that you have 100% beet juice as your dye.

      But again, I haven’t tried it, so perhaps someone else who has had more experience with dying with natural dyes could chime in?

      Good luck and HAVE FUN! :)

  23. G.Siva Avinash says

    the information you have given is so good.i loved this.
    how can i make cabbage 65 into a blue colour one

  24. Katherine says

    I want to color epsom salts bright red for Christmas to use in homemade bath salts. Was thinking beet powder and then add a little water to it, then toss with the salt??

    • Kresha Faber says

      Hmmm…. I’m not sure whether the red of the beets will transfer to the salt or not. I haven’t tried it. Definitely try it before you give them as gifts. :) Also, I suspect pure beet juice would work better than reconstituted beet powder – if you don’t have a juicer, you can blend raw beets with a few teaspoons of water (just enough to get it moving in the blender), then strain the liquid through a cheesecloth.

      Good luck!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>