How can I make my own natural food coloring?

Organic Soft Gingerbread Cookies © by Growing a Green Family, used under Creative Commons license.
I have a toddler who is very sensitive to chemicals and essentially turns into a wolverine if she consumes any artificial food coloring, like Red 40, Yellow 5, etc. I've done pretty well navigating the grocery store and figuring which products and brands are safe, but I would like to make Christmas cookies at home and it would be nice if I could find a natural way to make red and green icing.

I did see natural food coloring for sale online, but was hoping for a cheaper DIY way that I can do at home.

Has anyone ever made natural food coloring before? -Liz

Yes, you can totally buy natural food coloring online, but can you make it yourself? We're sure there's a way, and our Homies just might know how. So, please, do tell!

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  1. My god daughter is allergic to yellow dye. so when her first b-day was dr. suess, we had an issue. i bought dye free white everything and dyed it and flavored it with fruit. i bought fresh fruit, pureed it, thickened it and mixed it with the frosting and cake batters to make flavored and the color of the fruit. on blue though you are screwed. closest is purple. red was done with raspberries. and i didn't need a green but i bet mint would work.

  2. Beets oughta work for red, though it may be sort of a pinkish red. And I know you can dye yarn yellow with onion skins, I'm not sure if you'd want to eat that on a cookie, though….

    1 agrees
  3. I haven't personally tried it, but I believe Beets can make a natural red/pink colour when boiled, and onion skins will make a yellow colour. Unfortunately, I'm not entirely sure how to take that to icing, it would probably need a fair bit of experimentation.

  4. I haven't tried this, but I've seen someone using pureed spinach to enhance the green coloring in something. (I think it was a cake) It wasn't enough to change the flavor, she said.

  5. You can also use berries for some more cookie friendly colors/flavors. You should be able to get a nice range of pinks, reds and purples.

    2 agree
  6. Also, Canadian Smarties appear to be colored with spinach (IF my olfactory senses are any judge)

  7. i use no colouring but maybe this helps:
    -egg white before baking makes cookies shiny, and it´s the glue for decorative sugar or almonds…
    -egg yolk, again before baking, makes a yellow shine (duh) and again is sticky enough for your decorations
    -aaaand: chocolate. always a big hit, if it works with your child..

  8. While I haven't used natural dye for foods, I do use natural dyes for play dough at my preschool. Simmering cranberries in some water and then straining them makes a gorgeous pinky/red color- I actually just mash up whats left instead of straining out the tiny bits of skin but it won't look as 'perfect'. However, I don't know how bitter that would make icing. Blueberries and blackberries work really well for blue/purple. I've used kale and spinach for green, but again I don't know if that would make for some super bitter icing. Anyway, try the cranberries! They make a beautiful strong color and are cheap this time of year.

  9. I've pushed a few frozen raspberries through a sieve for lovely bright pink icing before.

    2 agree
  10. Beets are traditionally what colors red velvet cake, actually. They are sweet too so they could make a decent red. I don't know about using turmeric for yellow, I'm imagining curry flavored icing. Spinach has a mild enough flavor to blend with icing but I don't know if it would hold the green color long, won't the chlorophyll oxidize? And that may not taste as great over time, I don't know. And I couldn't begin to give suggestions for blue.
    Dying food is so different than dying fibers, since you have to care about flavor, texture, and preservability. I'm curious to hear more ideas though.

  11. Liz,
    Could you provide us with a list of the foods you found that don't cause your child to go all "wolverine?" I'm trying to cut back on the artifical stuff myself.

    • I have thought about writing a post for Home/Families about how to navigate the grocery store and identify natural products, but wasn't sure if they are open to posts that review specific companies and brands. For example, I have cut my Whole Foods shopping list in half and found products at Aldi that are similar and natural, at a fraction the price. I will at least put a general list together on how to identify the more natural options!

  12. A couple of more ideas I had are possibly getting Liquid Chlorophyll supplement from the health food store, as I know it is super green.

    Also, when I found natural Blue food coloring, the ingredient was "red cabbage", and I read that after simmering the cabbage, it turns bright purple, and if you add an alkaline like baking soda it will turn blue. Not super tasty or vibrant blue, but a decent blue anyway!

    1 agrees
  13. I believe red cabbage would be a good option. I'm not sure on it's stability but in high school chemistry we learned it was a universal indicator, i.e. it changes colour when an acid or alkali (base) is added. You can get a good spectrum of colours with the right amount of acid or alkali.

    I also recall that if you add dye extracted from red cabbage to egg whites they turn green, so you can make green eggs and ham 🙂

    Edited: Found this link googling red cabbage dye, it would be a good starting point:
    http://www.wikihow.com/Dye-Food-With-Red-Cabbage

    1 agrees
  14. for green, you can use powdered chlorophyll or spirulina powder…saffron or turmeric make nice yellows, and for red, try boiling cut beets in just enough water to cover them and then letting them steep for a while for a deeper red…that's all I've got :p

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