Kitchen Tips

How to make natural food colouring

It's time to ditch artificial food colouring in favour of these beautiful natural dyes, says Alex Blackwood. From boiled beetroot to activated charcoal, find out how to make food in every colour of the rainbow, naturally.

By Alex Blackwood
Photo source: Getty Images
A few weeks ago, Nadia Lim posted a video of the icing she was making for her son Bodhi's Batman birthday cake. The deep cyan blue colour was bright enough that you might have thought, "Oh, Nadia must have found a friendly artificial food colouring brand..."
But the food sorceress had tricked us again, using her foodie magic, boiled cabbage and some baking soda to create the blue icing. As it turns out, you can make natural food dyes with some veggie aisle basics and a little ingenuity, meaning it's easy to create food in all colours of the rainbow without having to worry about what those colours are made of!
Results vary in strength depending on your vegetables and what you are dying, so start out with a little and add more till you get the right colour. The idea is to use these natural dyes as sparingly as possible so that you get a bright colour without spinach-, cabbage- or onion-flavoured icing.

Red food colouring:

Beetroot's vibrant red juice makes it perfect as a food dye. Chop up a beetroot, cover with water and bring to a boil over a medium heat before reducing the heat to simmer until the beets are tender. Strain out the beetroot (and perhaps serve it in this beetroot, spiced almond, date and feta salad) then save the dark red juice to use as your dye.

Orange food colouring:

Onion skins are destined for the compost heap anyway so if you're a keen waste reducer, you'll be a huge fan of onion skin dye. Simply chop up half a cup of skins, cover them with water and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain out the skins and there's your orange dye!

Yellow food colouring:

Turmeric is notoriously bright, with drinkers of turmeric lattes often having trouble with the yellow staining their teeth. It's so vivid that there isn't any work required to turn turmeric into a dye; simply stir in pinches of the powdered form until you get the desired brightness. Similarly bright and sunny, saffron can be used as is as a yellow dye too.

Green food colouring:

There are loads of ways to colour food green – liquid chlorophyll (available in health food shops), spinach juice, parsley juice, wheatgrass juice or matcha powder – all of which can be used as dye without preparation.

Blue food colouring:

Blue is a more difficult dye, but just like Nadia, you can use science to get that bright blue that you want. Bring red cabbage to the boil with just enough water to cover then simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the juice into a bowl (keep the cabbage – you can eat that) and add baking soda until the juice turns deep blue.

Purple food colouring:

Pure blueberry juice. It's that simple!

Black food colouring:

Activated charcoal powder is all the rage for health, and it is about as pigmented as you can get! Grab a jar from a health-food store, or go gourmet with some squid ink.
Happy colouring!