Sunday, June 30, 2013

How to Color Frosting Naturally & Quickly

What do cupcakes, Skittles, sprinkles, and even salad dressing all have in common? They all contain food dyes. Ever seen those strange names on the ingredient lists: "FD& C Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1," well that my friends would be the food dyes. Obviously some of the foods from the list I mentioned above  are a bit more obvious than others, but nowadays food dyes are everywhere and don't show any sign of going away...yet.

Today we'll learn how to get these colors...naturally!

I don't know about you, but as a kid I grew up on Fruity Pebbles, Cap' n Crunch,  Jell-O, and sprinkles, and I didn't really think anything of their bright neon colors as I happily ate along. I just figured they must be safe right? I mean how could "they" put something in there that would be anything less than safe for adults and children to eat? WRONG! Fast forward to just a few years ago and I started hearing about parents putting their hyperactive kids on "red-dye-free diets". I thought, what was so bad about red dye? Maybe I should cut out red dye too? And what about all those other colors, should I be eating those too?

Well, like most "awakenings" I've had on my green journey, the truth is usually a bit tougher to swallow than believing the lie that everything is fine, healthy and safe. Just as I discovered with GMO foods, personal care products, and household cleaners, there were some dangers lurking in traditional food dyes as well.  One of the most recent and comprehensive studies was done by The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and they found that "dyes used in commerically prepared foods ranging from candy to breakfast cereals and salad dressing-present a "rainbow of risks" and can cause allergic reactions, hyperactivity, and even cancer."

The nasties that I'm trying to avoid.
The report goes on to describe how:
  • Food dyes contain ingredients that are derived from petroleum...they same thing that goes into gasoline! 
  • They add no nutritional value or benefit to the foods they are added to.
  • Foods that contain food dyes in U.K. must be labeled: "may have an adverse effect on activity and attention of children." But yet they are okay for US children to have? 

The report also breaks down some of the dyes and their effects individually:
  • Red #40 : "Which is the most widely used dye, may accelerate the appearance of immune system tumors in mice, while also triggering hyperactivity in children."
  • Blue #2: "Used in candies, beverages, pet foods and more, was linked to brain tumors."
  • Yellow #5: "Used in baked goods, candies, cereal and more, may not only be contaminated with several cancer-causing chemicals, but it's also linked to hyperactivity."

Click here to learn more about each food dye and the ill effects it has been linked with.

The end result of the report calls for the FDA to ban dyes, a move that would force the industry to color foods with real food ingredients, not toxic petrochemicals.  But if you don't feel like waiting for the FDA, you can start taking steps to remove food dyes from your family's foods...today!

Check the ingredient lists of the foods you buy and if they contain food dyes, look for a non-food dye alternative. Now this isn't always the easiest thing to find, but it get's the toxic, attention and behavior altering food out of your cart and out of your body.

Now in a perfect world, that would be the end of this lesson about food dyes...just avoid them! Simple enough, right? But what about birthdays, parties, special occasions?  Unless you're living under a rock or don't have kids, a time is probably going to come where you're going to want to make or bake something special...something with some color. I can relate. Before Avery was born, I was perfectly content to frost my cakes and cupcakes with either chocolate or vanilla frosting, "Who needs colors?" I thought!

But then Avery's first birthday rolled around and I knew I wanted some type of colorful icing to match her colorful party!

Avery's First Birthday Party

To achieve the "pink" frosting I was looking for at her party,  I did what other greenies probably do, use a fruit or vegetable juice to color my frosting. I had a juicer and I was happy to put it to use to color my frosting naturally. So I purchased some beets, juiced them and added a teaspoon or two to my batch of frosting.

Beet juice straight from my juicer. 

The "beet-dyed" pink frosting.
As you can see, it turned out great and I was thrilled to have found such an easy and green alternative to traditional food dyes!


But seeing as I probably didn't want to be limited to only making pink or red cupcakes for the rest of my life, I took to the internet to find other natural coloring ideas. I found tips to use spinach or liquid chlorophyl  for greens, oranges for orange, red cabbage for blue (a weird one I know, but once boiled and mixed with baking soda supposedly will make blue), and turmeric for yellow. So I broke out my juicer, whipped up a batch of frosting and began experimenting. Here's my results....

"Orange frosting" made with the juice of oranges. You can
tell that it started to make the frosting pretty watery after about
2 Tbs. of juice , and even then the color was still pretty light. 

For "green frosting" I tried spinach juice. Here's 2 Tbs. of
juice added to the frosting, and still it's pretty light...can
you even tell it's got green in it? I hardly can. 

So, as you can see, aside from all the work involved in juicing the fruits and vegetables, the colors weren't very strong, and the more juice I would add the more it would take the frosting from a thick and fluffy texture, to a watery-and almost slimy texture. At one point I also tried adding turmeric to a batch of frosting, and the results weren't too great. Although it didn't effect the texture, it did effect the taste. So unless you want your frosting tasting like a stir-fry, you might want to avoid that one.

Feeling helpless and defeated I took to web once again to see if a natural food coloring set existed to make this process much easier...and that's when I found India Tree's Nature's Colors Decorating Set.  At first the price ($15 off iHerb) took me back, but after all the wasted juice, mess, and time I'd spent experimenting, I was wiling to give it a try.


To tell you a bit more about India Tree:
"India Tree Decorating Colors are made from highly concentrated vegetable colorants. They contain no corn syrup or synthetic dyes."

Directions: "Use to color icing in rich jewel tones or soft pastels. Add them to your frosting a drop at a time."
As you can see it comes with three colors: red, yellow,
and blue
In case you're an ingredient detective like me, here's their ingredients:
  • Blue: Glycerin, vegetable juice, deionized water.
  • Red: Beet juice, citric acid.
  • Yellow: Glycerin, turmeric, deionized water. 

So now that we've got a natural food dye, it's time to put it to use! 

Watch below to learn how I naturally color my favorite frosting in this week's video:


Don't have time for the video, no problem! Let's get started on that frosting. Here's my all-time favorite  recipe. I love that it does not have any powdered sugar, and although it does contain shortening, to me me it's a better alternative to traditional frostings. Hope you like it too!

Here's the recipe, as listed on the Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen's blog 
(*This is the full recipe, but I cut the recipe in half most of the time and I find that it's plenty to frost 20 some cupcakes.*)

Sugar-Free, Vegan Frosting
  • 2 cups organic palm shortening (Spectrum)
  • 1 cup arrowroot powder
  • 1 cup agave nectar or maple syrup
  • 4 teaspoons non-alcoholic vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons almond flavoring (non-alcoholic)
  • 2 to 4 teaspoons beet juice (optional)
Place all ingredients into a mixing bowl and whip up with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. This can be made a day ahead of time, stored at room temp. Just re-whip before frosting the cake.


The ingredients.


Add all the ingredents to a mixer.

Then mix till smooth.

I then scoop out the frosting into Pyrex bowls so that
I can mix the colors in easily and if I have any leftover,
I can put the lid on and store it for later.

Now it's time to get colorful! Here's how to color the frosting with India Tree colors...

1. Add several drops of the dye to the frosting.

2. Stir till you reach your desired color. 

Here I've mixed some red and blue to make purple. 

Here's the end result of the first round of colors:
purple, green, and orange.

Second round: blue, yellow, and red.
Then it's up to you what you want to do with your frosting! You could frost cupcakes or a cake, put them on graham crackers, use them for any other frosting needs.


I frosted a batch of my favorite gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free cupcakes from the book, BabyCakes:Vegan, (Mostly) Gluten-free, and (Mostly) Sugar-Free Recipes from New York's Most Talked About Bakery by Erin McKenna. I share more about this recipe back in Avery's 1st Birthday Party post.


The end result: colorful, natural cupcakes!
Here's the cupcakes I frosted with the same set of natural food dyes for our Gender Reveal party a few weeks ago...

Pink and blue cupcakes dyed with the India Tree colors.

As you can tell, Avery's not too picky when it comes to knowing the difference between traditional or natural food colorings. Here she is on her 2nd Birthday!


Want to take your cupcakes or frosting to the next level with some sprinkles? Well, you can bet that traditional sprinkles are loaded with more food dyes, but luckily I found this cool brand of sprinkles called: "Let's Do Organic: Sprinkelz Confetti". They do not contain any food dyes and instead are dyed with natural vegetable food colors. Yes, they are a bit more dull than the sprinkles you may be used to, but they're better than nothing if you looking to spruce up your baked goods without the use of toxic dyes. 


Do you have a favorite natural way to color frosting, cakes, or other foods? Share your experiences below! And remember when you're looking to color your delicious, baked goods be sure to....


Here's to some yummy, colorful, non-toxic baked treats!

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