9 Easy, Natural Ways to Color Your Food

Natural food dyes


Special occasions seem to call for brightly colored foods. Birthday cakes bear swirls of colored icing. Holiday cookies and Easter eggs are decorated in many hues. Even St. Patrick’s Day beer can easily take on a green tint with a drop of food coloring.

It’s fun to experiment with turning your favorite foods various colors, but you don’t necessarily need food coloring or dyes to do it, says dietitian Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD.

How to turn foods different colors

“When you can, add color with foods that truly enhance nutrition, such as dark green vegetables or fruit,” Jeffers says. You can try green, pink or purple smoothies by adjusting your use of greens (kale or spinach) and berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries). Here, Jeffers offers nine more colorful ideas:

  1. Juice your veggies. Include things like kale, spinach, parsley, or bell peppers for a nutritious green punch. You can add apples, grapes or peaches to sweeten things. Or you can simply mix the green juice into light-colored dressings — even cake batters — to add a hint of green color. About two teaspoons is all you need.
  2. Use water from boiled veggies or fruit. You can also boil green vegetables, such as peas, or red fruit, such as cranberries. Use the colored water that is left behind to color foods and recipes. It’s an easy, natural way to add  coloring to other foods.
  3. Try Japanese green tea. You can also try Matcha tea, a finely milled or powder green tea from Japan. Besides drinking it as a tea, you can use it as an ingredient in recipes. It not only turns foods green, but is rich in nutrients, antioxidants and fiber.
  4. Green mac ‘n’ cheese. Some kids love the idea of green macaroni and cheese. It’s a sneaky way to include some extra greens in your child’s diet. Make your macaroni and cheese green by taking a spinach puree or even avocado and mixing it with the cheese sauce to get that green color.
  5. Beets offer a natural way to color foods red or pink, and they are a good source of vitamin C, iron and magnesium. Look for the round, purplish-red variety. If you are making your own cake or cupcake frosting, you can start by juicing a teaspoon or two of beets. Then add the juice to your frosting and blend for pink or red icing.
  6. Pomegranate juice can offer a pinkish-red hue. It can be tricky to get the color right, but easier if you don’t mind pomegranate flavor in whatever you are making. You can experiment with red velvet cupcakes that include boiled down pomegranate juice.
  7. Turmeric or saffron can make foods yellow. As your rice is cooking, add turmeric for a golden yellow color. Saffron is a more expensive option and if you go with the fresh variety, you may have to soak the stems in hot water/stock for 20 minutes before you add it to your dish. You can also grind saffron with a mortar/pestle.
  8. Paprika can offer orange or a deeper orange-red, depending on the peppers that are used. Heating paprika releases color and flavor. You can experiment with sprinkling ground, unheated paprika on foods when you want to add color but not flavor.
  9. Boiled onion peels can give a deep orange color to boiled eggs. You simply boil the outer peels of onion in water with the eggs; the longer the eggs stay in the water, the darker the color.

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A few things to remember

Natural coloring made from foods tend to be less vivid than artificial color additives, Jeffers notes. It can be harder to control the color and consistency. Also, using food-based color can introduce other flavors. This can work well if the flavor enhances the food.

“Remember, the more vivid the color, the more likely it is that the taste is also affected,” she says. “It’s good to experiment.”