Find out how to make bright and vibrant food using all-natural food colourings that are safe for kids to eat and add goodness rather than E numbers to your food.
My kids, like many others, love bright and vibrant food. Sometimes I want to use food colourings to make food fun for them.
However, synthetic food colouring contains lots of dubious ingredients so I've been experimenting a lot recently with natural food colourings. Here's what I've found out.
Colouring food with vegetables
Many vegetables have an incredible colour and sometimes that's all you need to make food bright and vibrant.
These beautiful green pancakes were made with spinach - there's not a drop of artificial colouring in sight.
Beetroot is another vegetable that knows how to shine in the colour department.
I love the bright purple colour of these beetroot and goats cheese palmiers.
But sometimes vegetables are just too watery to use as food colourings. Where do you use food colourings the most? For me it's often when I want to make a birthday cake or decorate some biscuits or cupcakes that I'm after a vibrant colour.
I spoke to my friend Samina, who runs a macaron making business called Mon Dessert to find out how she colours her macarons. Traditional French macarons often appear in extremely vibrant colours in the patisserie.
Samina wanted hers to be made from natural ingredients so she uses natural powders such as:
to colour her macarons. The colours might not be quite as bright as the food colouring gels you can get but they're still beautiful.
How to make natural food colouring with food powders
I decorated my chocolate kale muffins (see below) with buttercream coloured using spirulina powder for the green.
If you're thinking "what on earth is spirulina?" then you're not alone! It's a type of blue-green algae that is widely considered to be a bit of a super-food - it's packed full of nutrients and is often added to green juices and smoothies.
How to make spirulina buttercream
I made a basic buttercream by beating 70g dairy free spread (or use butter) until light and fluffy, then I added 140g sifted icing sugar and 1 tbsp milk. Once the two were beaten together I made pastes with a small amount of each powder and water. This allowed me to add it little by little to the buttercream to control the shade.
However, if you're not worried about the exact shade you could add a little of the powder directly to the icing sugar.
The amount of powder needed will vary depending on the colour and shade you're aiming for. To get this shade of green I only added ¼ tsp spirulina powder mixed with ½ tsp water to my buttercream. I could detect a brief hint of an algae-ish taste but my kids didn't notice and loved these.
When using the beetroot and cacao powder I used larger quantities to get a brighter colour - ½ tsp powder to 1 tsp water. However, I would recommend being careful with how much turmeric you add as it does have quite a strong taste - and to be honest the colour of uncoloured buttercream is light yellow anyway!
Indigo Herbs were kind enough to send me the following samples to experiment with for the purposes of this post.*
Making natural food colourings with red cabbage
I also experimented with using red cabbage as a natural food colouring. I came across this recipe for homemade natural blue colouring from Sew Historically and she has got the most beautiful shade of light blue from red cabbage.
However, as you can see I couldn't replicate the blue colour when I mixed it with icing sugar. I'm not sure what I did wrong - the purple colour is without bicarbonate of soda but when I added the soda I got rather a nice shade of green - but not the blue as I'd hoped for. I'll be experimenting further with blue colourings so watch this space.
I hope you find this post useful - and if you have any ideas for how to make natural blue food colouring do let me know in the comments below.
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*Disclaimer: Indigo Herbs sent me some free samples to use in this post. I have received no other payment and all opinions are honest and my own.