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 colours…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 colours 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 colours? 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 commercially 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… the 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 the U.K. must be labelled: “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 tumours in mice, while also triggering hyperactivity in children.”
- Blue #2: “Used in candies, beverages, pet foods and more was linked to brain tumours.”
- 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 colour 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 gets the toxic, attention and behaviour-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 colour. 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 colours?” I thought!
But then Avery’s first birthday rolled around and I knew I wanted some type of colourful icing to match her colourful 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 colour my frosting. I had a juicer and I was happy to put it to use to colour 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 colouring ideas. I found tips to use spinach or liquid chlorophyll 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 are 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 colour 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 colours weren’t very strong, and the more juice I would add, the more it would make 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 affect the texture, it did affect 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 colouring 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 sure willing to give it a try.
To tell you a bit more about India Tree:
“India Tree Decorating Colors are made from highly concentrated vegetable colourants. They contain no corn syrup or synthetic dyes.”
Directions: “Use colour icing in rich jewel tones or soft pastels. Add them to your frosting a drop at a time.”
As you can see, it comes in three colours: red, yellow, and blue
In case you’re an ingredient detective like me, here are 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 colour my favourite 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 favourite recipe. I love that it does not have any powdered sugar, and although it does contain shortening, to me, it’s a better alternative to traditional frostings. I 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 flavouring (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.
Add all the ingredients to a mixer.
Then mix till smooth.
I then scoop out the frosting into Pyrex bowls so that
I can mix the colours 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 colourful! Here’s how to colour the frosting with India Tree colours…
1. Add several drops of the dye to the frosting.
2. Stir till you reach your desired colour.
Here I’ve mixed some red and blue to make purple.
Here’s the end result of the first round of colours:
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 favourite 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: colourful, 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 colours.
As you can tell, Avery’s not too picky when it comes to knowing the difference between traditional or natural food colourings. 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 colours. 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 favourite natural way to colour frosting, cakes, or other foods? Share your experiences below! And remember, when you’re looking to colour your delicious baked goods be sure …
Here’s to some yummy, colourful, non-toxic baked treats!
Recently this post was linked up to:
Frugally Sustainable as part of the “Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways Blog Hop.”
“Healthy Vegan Fridays” over at The Veggie Nook, and Carrie On Vegan, and Green Thickies