There’s no arguing that the best, most vibrant colours are found in nature. All you need to do is look outside, or walk through the fresh produce stalls at your local farmers markets to see the appealing hues that come without the long list of numbers that accompany synthetic bottled dyes. We’re here with the comprehensive hows and whys of using natural food colours to give your products the pop they need without the artificial additives.
Natural food colourings can come from a wide range of sources including fruits, vegetables, flowers, minerals and other natural edibles. They can come in the form of powders, liquids, gels and pastes, and are used to impart colour when added to food or drinks. While they are available commercially, there are many you can try making yourself.
So, what should you use to make each colour?
Depending on the shade of pink you’re after, there are a number of natural colouring options. One of the most popular is beetroot powder, which is widely available and vibrantly pigmented. Additionally, it is supposed to be good for cardiovascular health—although if you’re using it to colour a doughnut, it probably won’t cancel that out!
Beetroot powder can be made by drying beetroot slices in a food dehydrator and the grinding into a fine powder in a food processor. Alternatively, it is readily available for purchase, as is pink pitaya powder (extracted from dragon fruit).
Other natural pink sources include strawberries, raspberries and pomegranate, which you can use either whole or extract the juice from to colour—and flavour—cakes, icing, doughs and fillings.
Blue colour doesn’t come from where you might think! Unfortunately, blueberries have a bit of a disingenuous moniker, and in fact create more of a purple colouring—but we’ll get to that.
To achieve a vibrant cyan blue, blue spirulina—a type of blue-green algae which is sourced from open-air ponds—has been used for centuries. However, this one isn’t so easy to DIY, as it requires some processing from to separate the blue pigment from its naturally dark green colour, as well as to dispel its rather unpleasant fish tank-like odour.
In addition to being a stunning colour, blue spirulina is rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, iron, carotenoids and antioxidants, and can be found in powder form in many health food stores.
Alternatively, butterfly pea flower powder (sometimes called ‘blue matcha’) is another natural way to achieve a deep blue (or violet with the addition of lemon). With its colour resistant to high temperatures, butterfly pea flower powder is ideal for baking.
Yep, as we mentioned earlier, you can use blueberries to make food purple. But to achieve one of the most appealingly vibrant purples you can come across, ube—or purple yam/sweet potato—is your friend.
Ube powder is a ground, purple coloured starchy substance made from the meat of purple yams, a tube. It is commonly used to add a mildly sweet flavour and purple colour to foods such as sweet desserts, cakes, candy, ice cream, and jams. Being starchy, it goes great in products like doughnuts, giving the dough that amazing texture.
When it comes to green food colouring, no artificial dyes can come close to achieving the delectable colour that matcha has naturally. Originally used for its health properties in its green tea form—it provides vitamin C, selenium, zinc, magnesium, EGCG, fibre, chromium, and more—matcha really rose to foodie fame in recent years as it became a popular colouring and flavouring for (mostly Eastern-inspired) desserts.
Matcha powder is made from finely powdered dried tea leaves and has a slightly bitter, vegetal taste and a vibrant green colour that results from the leaves’ high chlorophyll levels. However, you don’t need to add a lot to create this trendy colour, so the bitterness doesn’t tend to be an issue—particularly in desserts.
Even with many of the artificial food colourings on the market, true black can be a difficult shade to achieve. Whether it’s for icing, ganache, or the more recent trend of black bread, burger buns, and even croissants, food grade activated charcoal powder is your best bet.
Activated charcoal is often made from coconut shells that are burned and turned into a fine powder, and given it is basically tasteless, you can add it to anything.
Particularly handy with the approaching spooky Halloween season!
Whether you’re after a really bright, vibrant yellow for your cakes or just want to add an extra drop of colour to your lemon tart, nature has you covered.
Turmeric is a popular option—you might have seen it sold in latte form in your local café, with in believed to have anti-inflammatory properties.
As a food colouring, turmeric powder does not disappoint. You can use it straight, simply stirring the powdered form into your mixtures, or dissolve in water to create a more traditional dye.
As it is aromatic, bitter in flavour, and traditionally used to add colour and boost flavour in curries, cheeses, butters, mustards and rice dishes, a little is better in sweet dishes so as to not overpower the palate.
Saffron is another great choice; known for the yellow colour of its aqueous or alcoholic extracts. This spice is widely used as a natural food additive for colouring and flavouring of foods and beverages, with its colouring properties mainly attributed to water-soluble carotenoids derived from crocetin metabolites named crocins.
Get in touch with your inner artist and combine some of these natural ingredients to get the shade you need. Need orange? Maybe try some saffron with a hint of beetroot powder.
Ready to give it a go? Start with this recipe for naturally coloured dried rainbow pear slices!