Some years ago I wrote what is still one of the most popular articles ever written on Your Daily Vegan, Warning: What You Don’t Know About Food Coloring. The article is all about how artificial food coloring is tested on animals and how you can make food colors yourself at home with stuff you probably already have in your fridge.
I know, I know: I talk about animal testing a lot.
I’ve talked about how honey is tested on animals and I’m constantly talking about how artificial food colors are tested on animals. Seriously, animal testing sucks and can yield dangerous results when physicians treat patients using medicine based on the results of these studies.
I mention these things a lot because not everyone knows how pervasive animal testing really is. More than just health & beauty products and medications are tested on animals, we should be talking about that.
It’s the whole “the more you know the more informed choices you can make” thing.
Since I dislike artificial food colors so much, I thought I’d show you how to make your own homemade DIY food colors. Like a pretty food color tutorial if you will. None of these colors are hard to make and they won’t hurt you, your family, or any poor animal destined for a life in a lab. Bonus, they’re cheaper than buying the pre-made versions too!
So, let’s talk all natural and vegan food colors.
How to Make Homemade Food Colors
Look at those colors! Yellow, blue, red, purple, and green. All of the colors can be made at home with simple ingredients found in your fridge or pantry. No weird synthetic chemicals required.
And since you’re looking, check out those miniature mason jars! Adorable! My love of all things tiny has been long documented on this blog, so really you should have expected that from me by now ;)
Let’s take a look at how to make each color. Trust me, it’s not complicated or expensive.
All Natural DIY Red or Pink Food Dye
Of all the colors, red is probably the easiest to make. Beet juice is the best choice because it will give you the most in-depth red color, although cherry juice will work just as well. However, it’s more expensive.
To make red food coloring, just run one beet through a juicer and use the juice in the same way you would other synthetic dyes.
If you don’t have a juicer, no worries. Just wash and thoroughly scrub one organic beet. Next, place a paper towel over a large plate. You could use a thin, clean dishtowel as well but keep in mind that it will be stained red. Using a box grater, finely grate beet onto the paper towel taking care not to get any on the countertop. Once the beet is grated, gently pull the paper towel around the beets and squeeze the beet juice into a separate bowl. Easy peasy.
I like to mix the beet juice three parts beet juice to one part apple juice to help sweeten the taste of the red coloring. This way you won’t end up with an underlying beet flavor to your pretty red foods. I tend to use red apples in my food colors because of their sweetness, but green ones would work just as well too.
It needs to be said that you don’t have to sweeten your beet juice to use it as food coloring. In fact, using straight beet juice will give you a darker, more vivid red color. Plus, beet juice doesn’t taste awful. But it’s nice to have options so now you have two. Choose the method that will best match the recipe you’re using it in.
The icing in the above photo was made using organic confectioners sugar, organic corn syrup, and red homemade food coloring in a ratio of 3 parts beet juice to one part red apple juice. Adjust the apple juice ratio to achieve different shades of red, including pink.
All Natual DIY Yellow Food Dye
Much like homemade red food dye, making a vibrant yellow dye is easy too. The first thing you’ll need to get your hands on is some turmeric. Fresh or powdered, it doesn’t matter. Either will work with this method.
You’ll find powdered turmeric in the spice section of the grocery store. Pro tip: Buy your spices in bulk whenever you can. It’s insanely cheap to do so because you are only paying for what you need and not the packaging. Or, skip the powdered turmeric and go fresh. Fresh turmeric is where the fresh garlic is located, it looks a bit like an orange ginger root.
Fresh & Grated Turmeric Root (Photo: The Kitchn)
Turmeric has a very strong taste, especially when it’s fresh. To balance its strong flavor, I mix fresh apple juice with the turmeric juice just like I do when I make the homemade red food color from beets. I use the same 3 to 1 ratio too, only in reverse. For a bright, vivid yellow food color, use 3 parts fresh apple juice to one part fresh turmeric juice.
If you are using powdered turmeric, don’t worry, you can still get a bright, vivid yellow color by mixing it with apple juice. However, you won’t use the same ratio. Instead, stir a tiny amount of powdered turmeric in a small amount of fresh apple juice and mix well. Start with the tiniest amount possible and see what the color looks like and adjust until you get the color you’re looking for.
Keep in mind, you won’t need a lot of apple juice when mixing up the color so only make as much as you need. A little color can go a long way.
This icing in the above photo was made using organic powdered sugar, organic corn syrup, and a few drops of the homemade yellow food coloring. The yellow dye was made with the juice from one red apple (not all of it – only a few tablespoons because that’s all I needed) and a scant amount of fresh turmeric juice. As you can see, the yellow color is bright and vivid!
All Natural DIY Green Food Dye
Honestly, I’m starting to feel bad even calling these food colors recipes they’re so simple. Homemade green food coloring can be made using an array of foods like matcha or green tea powder, or the juice of green vegetables such as kale or spinach. One ingredient and done.
Some people have said that they can taste the kale or spinach of the food coloring in the foods that have been dyed, but this has never been my experience. If you are concerned that your green food coloring will leave a “too green” taste to the foods it’s used in, simply use the apple juice method to sweeten things up.
I used one part green apple juice to three parts kale juice to make the green food coloring you see in the photo above. The icing was made using organic powdered sugar, organic corn syrup, and 4 – 5 drops of the green food color. You can adjust the color of the green by using color — add yellow for a spring green color or blue for a pretty teal color — or by changing the ratio of color to apple juice. Keep tweaking until you get the color you’re looking for.
All Natural DIY Purple Food Dye
Look, pretty homemade purple food coloring! Both purple and blue food coloring are made from the same ingredient but in very different ways. Believe it or not, they’re both made using purple cabbage.
Yup, purple cabbage and it’s super easy to do, too. Here’s how.
Pull off four or five outer leaves of the cabbage and run them under cold water to remove any dirt. Next, give the leaves a rough chop and toss them in a pot with two cups 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.
Congratulations, you now have all natural purple food coloring.
Generally speaking, I don’t mix the purple with apple juice because I want the deepest purple color possible. The purple food color is going to smell like cooked cabbage because, well, that’s what it’s made from.
To test whether or not you could taste the cabbage in a dyed food, I made the icing above using organic confectioner’s sugar, organic corn syrup, with a small amount of the purple food color and asked a friend to taste it. She wasn’t able to detect the flavor of cabbage, and neither did I.
I know I keep saying how pretty these homemade food colors turn out but they really do. This purple is just as pretty as those artificial concoctions and it’s made with some something I’m not afraid to eat. Solid.
All Natural Blue Food Dye
Last, but certainly not least, blue. That’s right unicorns; you can finally have pretty blue for your confections! While blue is trickier than the other colors, it’s still easy to do.
You’ll start out the same way as you would the purple color, by washing and chopping a few red cabbage leaves, placing them in a pot with two cups of filtered water, and boiling them for 5 – 10 minutes. Then you’ll set it aside to cool completely.
Cooling the purple color is very important. If the purple color is even slightly warm, the blue color won’t process correctly. Once the purple color is completely cool, pour it into a mixing bowl. Add the tiniest amount of baking soda possible, and whisk until thoroughly dissolved.
The color change from purple to blue is almost immediate, so you’ll be able to tell what shade of blue it is pretty quick.
Be careful in the amount of baking soda you use. Only use just the amount you need to get the blue color you’re looking for because adding too much could mean that you’ll be tasting it later in the food you’ve dyed.
No one wants to have a sweet baking soda-flavored cookie, trust me. Gross.
To get the blue color above, I added 1/8 teaspoon (maybe less) of baking soda to my purple base. Next, I made a batch of test icing using the same recipe as all the others only using the homemade blue dye. I was satisfied that I couldn’t taste any baking soda, and neither could my taste tester. Just be cautious when mixing and you’ll be fine.
But look! Blue! So pretty!
Want More DIY Food Dye Colors?
Of course, there are more homemade food dyes color choices than I’ve covered here, but it’s pretty easy to use these basics to make other colors.
If you’re looking for orange color, mix yellow and red colors. If you are looking for black, mix them all together or use swiss chard juice. Just be aware that swiss chard juice is super, super bitter so use it sparingly. If you want brown, use coffee or tea.
The possibilities are endless.
How Long do the Colors Last?
Good question! These colors are made only from natural ingredients, so they won’t last as long as their artificial counterparts. I make mine the same day that I want to use them because I’m interested in 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 but the blue will absolutely not. For best results, use blue the same day you make it.
Keep in mind, pre-making colors and storing them in the fridge is not what I recommend, so store these colors at your own risk.
What About Pre-Made Colors?
Does the thought of juicing and mixing to create your own homemade food colors make you cringe? If you would prefer to buy natural food colors, no problem. India Tree has a full line of food coloring and sprinkles that are colored with vegetable juice or spices and contains no synthetic dyes. These are the food dyes and sprinkles that I use and I love them.
A note about India Tree products, not all of their product line is vegan-friendly. Some of the colored 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.