By KD Angle-Traegner, Founder & Editor
Listen, before I get too far- I know that there are some folks out there who have a hard time with the whole “if something is tested on animals that doesn’t automatically mean it isn’t vegan.” I get those comments all. the. time. Here’s the thing: veganism is an ethical philosophy that begins with the idea that humans shouldn’t be using animals in any way. If we are testing honey or artificial food colors on animals, then we are using animals. And while nearly every substance we consume has been tested on animals at some point, this fact doesn’t mean we should continue to consume something that we know is still to this day tested on animals. Artificial food coloring is a billion dollar industry and one only made more popular with the rise of food bloggers who make the most impossibly cute confection creations. What I’m saying here is that artificial food colors are unnecessary, toxic, and tested on animals. There’s a better way, I promise.
As an aside, if you’ve never read my article on artificial food coloring, I highly recommend that you do. It’s full of information like how artificial food colors are achieved through the wonder of chemistry and the industry of oil drilling. I break out the seven most commonly used food colors and detail the horrendous tests performed on animals to determine if these colors are going to kill people (FYI: they not only cause cancer in animal studies, 100% of the tests results in the deaths of the lab animals). But I don’t just give you the bad news, I tell you how to create an array of pretty colors at home from ingredients like fruit and vegetable juices.
With Easter right around the corner I thought it’d be a good time to show you how to make your own food colors instead of just tell you what to use. Like a pretty food color tutorial if you will. None of these colors are hard to make, they’re cheaper than buying the pre-made versions and won’t hurt you, your family, or any lab animals. So, lets get to it!
Homemade Food Coloring
From left to right: yellow, blue, red, purple, and green. All homemade, all natural- no artificial dyes, no weird chemicals, just simple ingredients found right inside your fridge and pantry. I put them inside little mason jars because my love of all things miniature has been long documented, so really by now you should have expected no less :)
Red or Pink
Red is probably the easiest of all the colors to make. Beet juice is the best choice as it will give you the deepest red color, although cherry juice will work just as well but it’s more expensive. To make your red coloring, simply juice one beet. It is possible to find pre-juiced beet juice at the market- if you’re lucky. I used to be able to find a small bottle of beet juice at the market for $6, but they stopped carrying it. These days I can buy an organic beet for less than $2 so I just make my own.
I like to mix the beet juice three parts beet juice to one part apple juice to help sweeten the coloring so that you don’t end up with a beet-y tasting food. I tend to use red apples but green would would just as well. Look at what a ratio of 3 to 1 looks like once mixed- it’s gorgeous. If you are looking for pink, simply use more apple juice until you achieve the color you’re looking for.
Getting a vibrant yellow is easy, all you have to do is get your hands on some fresh turmeric. Most of the markets carry it these days, look for it where the fresh ginger and garlic are kept. It looks a bit like orange ginger root.
If you can’t get your hands on fresh turmeric you can still make a yellow food color, although it won’t be as vibrant. Just use powdered turmeric. Be careful with the amount, you don’t want your sweet treats to taste like turmeric so use as little as you need to get the color you’re looking for. The picture above is what a scant 1/4 tsp of the finished color (I used fresh turmeric, not powdered) looks like. Pretty, right?
Green food coloring is so simple it’s silly. Simple juice up some kale or spinach and viola! Green food coloring. Some people have said that they can really taste kale or spinach in the green food coloring, but this has never been my experience. If you are worried that your green food coloring will taste “too green” simply use the apple juice method I mentioned above to sweeten it up.
I used a mix of green apple and kale juice to make the green you see above. If you wanted a more yellow green- like a spring green for example- you could add a drop or two of the yellow food coloring. If you wanted a lighter green, use more apple juice. Play around with it until you have the shade you’re looking for. Think of it as a little fun mixology project :)
Purple and blue coloring are made from the same thing but in very different ways. They are both made from purple cabbage. Yup, purple cabbage. It’s super easy to do, too. Here’s what you do. Take a few leaves of purple cabbage (I used 4 or 5 of the outside leaves I wouldn’t have eaten anyway) and cut them up and place them in a pot of filtered water.
Bring the pot of water to boil and then simmer for 5 – 10 minutes. Remove the leaves and the water that remains is a deep, deep purple. Pour it into a glass jar and let it cool down completely. At that point you have purple food coloring.
Generally speaking I don’t mix the purple with apple juice because I want the deepest purple possible. The coloring is going to smell a bit like cooked cabbage because, well, that’s what it’s made from. I made a small batch of royal frosting (above photo) and didn’t notice a cabbage taste to it and neither did my taste tester. I know I keep saying how pretty the colors come out but they really do. This purple is just as pretty as those artificial concoctions and made with something I’m not afraid to eat!
Finally, blue. Blue coloring is the trickiest of them all but still easy to do. Using the same directions as with the purple coloring, cut and boil purple cabbage leaves until you have a jar of purple coloring. Once it’s completely cool (this is very important as even warm coloring won’t turn out right) pour the color into a bowl. Add a tiny amount of baking soda and whisk it in until fully dissolved. The color change will be almost immediate and you’ll be able to tell what shade of blue you have pretty quickly.
You only want to use the amount of baking soda you need to get the blue color you’re looking for because adding too much could mean that you’ll be tasting it in the food you add it to. No one wants to have a baking soda flavored anything, trust me. I used maybe 1/8th of a teaspoon in my mixture- maybe even less. I made a small batch of royal frosting to taste test and was satisfied that I couldn’t taste any baking soda, but be careful. But look! Blue! So pretty!
Obviously there are more colors than I’ve covered here, but it’s pretty easy to use these basics to make other colors. If you’re looking for orange, mix yellow and red together. If you are looking for black, mix them all together or use swiss chard juice. Just be aware that swiss chard juice is super bitter so use it sparingly. If you want brown, use coffee or tea. The possibilities are endless.
And the best part? No animals were harmed to achieve the pretty cuteness. That’s a complete win.
How Long Do They Last?
These colors are made from natural ingredients and so they don’t last as long as their artificial counterparts. I make mine the same day I want to use them because I want the most vibrant color possible. If you must, you can store some of the colors for about a week in an air-tight container in the fridge. The red, yellow, purple, and green will probably keep- the blue will absolutely not. The blue must be used the same day it’s made. It’s not what I recommend though, so store these colors at your own risk.
If you would prefer to buy natural chemical-free colors, no problem. India Tree has a full line of colors and sprinkles that are colored with vegetable juice and/or spices and contains no synthetic dyes. These are the sugars and colors that I use and I love them. Some people have said that they can taste the natural food used to create the colors- the green sprinkles use spinach and was the one most commonly said to taste like spinach- but I have never had that experience myself. To me, they taste like pure sugar and nothing else.
A note about India Tree products, not all of their product line is vegan. Some of the sprinkles contain beeswax so be sure to check the label prior to purchasing. Look for sprinkles made with raw sugar and carnauba wax, which is made from the leaves of the palm plant.
Show Me Your Work!
I hope I’ve shown you how easy it is to get pretty colors from plants. If you run into any trouble, have any questions, or want to show off your pretty colored confection please just leave me a comment or find me on Twitter. Better yet, tag me on Instagram with the hashtag #yourdailyvegan!