Try These Natural Alternatives to Food Coloring
Whether you're frosting sugar cookies or creating multi-colored layers for a cake, the vibrant hues from food coloring can help to create enticing, eye-catching desserts. However, there are some health concerns associated with artificial food colors (AFCs). According to Pediatrics, the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, "studies have raised concerns regarding the effect of AFCs on child behavior and their role in exacerbating attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms."
Our food editors love playing with all-natural color, whether for rich red velvet cupcakes or this warm-hued Ombré Sheet Cake. If you're looking to incorporate more plant-based ingredients into your diet, artificial-free food coloring should be a natural choice (pun intended). Below, we're sharing our three favorite brands that get the job done, sans Red Lake 40.
Our food editors love India Tree's natural food colorings ($18.97, amazon.com) because the hues are a close match to artificial dyes and mix seamlessly into recipes. Not all of the ingredients used to make natural food coloring have been approved by the FDA; India Tree only uses natural sources of vegetables, fruit, and spices that have been approved by the agency. Because the brand's four vegetable-based colors—red, yellow, blue, and orange—are liquid, they blend more easily into batters and mixes than some powdered alternatives do.
One of the country's largest distributors of spices and food colorings is on board with the plant-based trend. McCormick's Nature's Inspired Food Colors ($5.98, amazon.com) are made from plants, vegetables, and seeds. The three powdered dyes are sky blue, which is made with spirulina; berry, which is made with beet juice; and a turmeric-based shade of sunflower. The trio can be mixed in various combinations to create any color under the rainbow.
This woman-owned, California-based company makes over 20 different shades of 100 percent plant-based colors, derived from fruits, vegetables, leaves, or flowers. Each color contains just one plant-derived ingredient. Love hot pink? Try their Pink Pitaya powder ($18.99 for five ounces, amazon.com), which is derived from pure red dragon fruit powder. Or take your pick between two striking shades of blue—one is made with blue spirulina powder, which comes from blue-green algae, and the other uses butterfly pea flower powder, which grows in Southeast Asia.
Our food editors also love using freeze-dried berries to achieve a natural color that closely matches artificial versions. When ground in a food processor, their natural color can be used to tint frosting, whipped cream, white cakes, and even ice cream. "For a small section of icing on cake or cookies, they really work," says editor-at-large Shira Bocar. Keep freeze-dried berries ($14.95 for three ounces, amazon.com) on hand as an alternative to food coloring whenever you're baking at home.