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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.

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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.

    • 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! :-) )

    • 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. 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….

  11. 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.

  12. 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?

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