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Guide To Creating Natural Food Dyes

 

I am the type of person who loves colour. I love wearing bright colours, immersing myself in nature's bright colours, using natural cookware in vibrant colours, and decorating my non-toxic home with colour. Of course, I love eating a rainbow of colours too – but only the natural hues found in nature. Synthetic food dyes are a no-go for me, but over the years I've done some experimenting to create natural food dyes as a colourful replacement.

What Are Food Dyes?

Food dyes are synthetic chemicals used to colour food. They are commonly used in canned, frozen, dried and packaged foods, as the manufacturing process results in a food that is dull and lifeless-looking. Fake colours brighten things up, making canned cherries look more red or dried apricots more orange, for example.

Where You Find Food Dyes

Food dyes are commonly found in:

  • Canned fruit
  • Candy
  • Cookies
  • Ready-made icing/frosting
  • Crackers
  • Bread
  • Juice
  • Drink mixes (juice, hot chocolate, etc.)
  • Gummies
  • Ice cream
  • Popsicles
  • Meat
  • Yogurt
  • Granola bars
  • Cereal
  • Salad dressings
  • Pickled vegetables
  • Potato chips
  • Oatmeal
  • Pasta
  • Canned soup and soup mixes
  • Soda
  • Cake, cookie and brownie mixes
  • Bottled sauces or sauce mixes (e.g. powdered gravy)
  • Toothpaste
  • Medication
  • Mouthwash
  • Beauty care products

You'll also tend to find food dyes in products for kids. One study of 810 common grocery store products found that 43% of items marketed to children contained artificial food colours. The highest percentage of products with food dyes were candies (96.3%), fruit-flavoured snacks (94%) and drink mixes/powders (89.7%). Another study concluded that children were actually consuming more food dyes than previously estimated.

When you combine those synthetic dyes with the copious amounts of sugar in these products, well, that is just a recipe for lifelong health challenges.

Download Your Printable Reference Guide

Recognizing Food Dyes on Labels

How do you recognize food dyes? As with anything else, read those labels. The common artificial colours are:

  • FD&C Blue No. 1 (brilliant blue)
  • FD&C Blue No. 2 (indigo carmine)
  • FD&C Green No. 3 (fast green)
  • Orange B (this one isn't used that often anymore, but isn't banned)
  • Citrus Red No. 2
  • FD&C Red No. 3 (erythrosine)
  • FD&C Red No. 40 (allura red)
  • FD&C Yellow No. 5 (tartrazine)
  • FD&C Yellow No. 6 (sunset yellow)

It can get a bit tricky when there are also a wide range of things used to colour food including annatto, caramel and even spirulina. For more information to help with your label sleuthing:

Health Risks of Artificial Food Colours + Dyes

I delve into food colours in detail in Stop Feeding Kids These 5 Ingredients, but I'll recap again here.

Here are a few of my concerns about synthetic dyes:

How to Create Natural Food Dyes

Natural Food Dye Recipes

I think, for the most part, when people are looking for natural food dyes it's because they want to colour their baked goods, icing and treats. When we cook whole foods from scratch, the vibrant colours of kale salads, curries, smoothies, turmeric tea, roasted veggies and the like don't need adulteration. Still, it's fun to make some pretty treats! Here is how to create natural food dyes at home.

Notes:

  • Many natural food colour options use fruit. You can either use fruit juice, blitz freeze-dried fruit or try puréed fruit.
  • Natural food colours aren't always as vibrant as the synthetic. Often, you'll end up with pale colours.
  • Some natural food colours will affect the flavour/sweetness of what you're colouring. For example, turmeric is a strong flavour. Start off with a small amount (and a pale colour), especially if you are making treats for children who may have more sensitive palates.

Red

Strawberry Licorice - natural food dyes

  • Red beets
  • Cherries
  • Strawberry

GET THE RECIPE


Blue

peach wild blueberry cashew cheesecake - natural food dyes

  • Blueberries, blueberry juice or freeze-dried blueberries
  • Pychocyanin

GET THE RECIPE


Green

Matcha Peppermint Patties - natural food dyes

  • Chlorella
  • Spirulina
  • Spinach powder
  • Kale juice (or any green juice)
  • Wheatgrass juice or powder
  • Matcha powder

GET THE RECIPE


Yellow/Orange

natural food dyes

  • Turmeric
  • Yellow beets
  • Saffron

GET THE RECIPE


Pink

Coconut Kefir Ice Cream - natural food dyes

  • Puréed raspberries or raspberries
  • Freeze-dried raspberries/strawberries
  • Dragonfruit
  • Blood oranges
  • Goji berries

GET THE RECIPE


Purple

  • Blackberries, blackberry juice or freeze-dried blackberries
  • Purple cabbage juice

Black

natural food dyes

GET THE RECIPE


Brown

Chocolate cream pie - natural food dyes

GET THE RECIPE


Download Your Printable Reference Guide

Naturally Colour-Rich Recipe Inspiration

Curious about the gorgeous photos at the top of this post?

The unicorn delight rainbow food photos used at the top of this post were created by one of my most favourite people to follow on Instagram @scecco_food.for.thought

Silvia Cecco is a self-described vibrant vegan.  She has a degree in computer engineering and works in robotics for the provincial power utility, Hydro-Québec.  Nearly two years ago, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which led her to a vegan diet which revitalized her and renewed her love and passion for food.  She creates these works of art to share this love and passion with you, through fun and beautiful, brightly coloured food creations. Follow Silvia's work here. 

One Response to “Guide To Creating Natural Food Dyes”

  1. Thanks for these. I am sorted now. I like making cakes now and then,

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