When I was in college, I took a handful of Food Science classes. For better or worse, they forever changed how I look at food.
One of the things that has stuck out to me over the years are the dyes they put in food.
Now I make my own food dyes, just like they used to ages ago in Victorian times. Want to make your own too? Here’s how.
For red, use red raspberries. For purple, use blackberries.
First, you need to extract the clear juice of the berries. I wanted my kids to be part of the process – I try to involve them in the kitchen whenever I can.
I have a mortar and pestle (that I absolutely love – affiliate), and I didn’t want it to get stained. So I wrapped them both in tin foil, which did an excellent job at keeping it safe from berry stains, poured in a handful of berries and let the kids pound away.
They loved it, from the squelchy sounds to the rich color produced by the berries.
Next thing you need to do is strain the berry pulp and juice through a very fine cloth (I use white kitchen towels similar to this kitchen/butter muslin – but I wish I could find the source for the ones I currently have! affiliate). You want as clear a colored liquid as you can get (so there are no solids in it).
Strain it twice. The first time, put a little pressure on it and squeeze it a bit, so that as much juice as possible will get past all the berry pulp.
Then strain it one more time and the juices will flow through easily, leaving behind the small amount of solids that get squeezed through the first time. You’ll be left with a clear, deeply-colored liquid.
What to do with the juice?
- Once you have a clear liquid, you could gently boil it down to concentrate it.
- Use it immediately to dye any food product you care to color.
- Or you could freeze it for later use.
Orange and Yellow
For orange and yellow, we use paprika and ground red pepper.
First question you’re probably wondering…
Does it end up flavoring the food?
No, surprisingly! I think it’s because the flavor/scent concentration is in the oils (hence the market for essential oils), so using water to extract the color leaves you with a pretty much odorless, tasteless, colored liquid.
Put a small amount of the spices in a jar or other heat-safe glassware. Add a bit of water.
Heat it in the microwave, or in a double boiler on the stove. (It does make it look darker, like in the picture below.)
Strain through a finely woven cloth (like kitchen muslin or something, as mentioned above) and you’re left with a deeply colored liquid.
If you use different spices, be sure to test out the color in a bit of white flour or white sugar to see how it will really color food. We tried several different spices, and got a variation of reds, oranges, browns, and yellows.
It’s amazing how much color spinach has! The first time I attempted it, I wondered if it would turn out rather dull and watery… but instead, I got the most beautiful deep, emerald green color. The best of it is, it’s easy, AND you can make it ahead, freeze it, and have it available for whenever you need it in the future!
To extract the color of the spinach, put a large handful of leaves in a food-processor (this is a small food processor that we were given on the occasion of our wedding).
Add a tiny drizzle of water.
Blend until it’s pretty thoroughly pulped (is that a word?).
Strain it through a fine-woven cloth (I use kitchen/butter muslin affiliate) and you should have a clear green liquid. If you see tiny solids still in it, strain it one more time.
You can make it ahead and freeze it (which is what I do).
Note: Don’t throw away the leftover spinach pulp!
You can use it in a myriad of ways – toss it into a soup, add it to an omelet, mix it with a bit of cream cheese and spread on a bagel… If you don’t have a way to use it now, just put it in a container and pop it in the freezer. You don’t want to waste that nutrition and fiber!
Making purple food dye.
Here are some pictures of turning blackberries into a deep purplish food dye. You’ll use the same steps used for making the red food dye (above).
Pounding the blackberries.
Straining the blackberries.
Now, let me tell you the blueberry story.
We started by pounding the blueberries like we did with the other berries. We got a good pulp, but the skins stayed in big chunks.
So I poured the pulp in the blender and blended it for a good while.
The skins still stayed in chunks, but smaller.
I strained it through the cloth like the other berries, and it did turn the cloth a darker, purple-blue color, but in the end, when added to food, the color just wasn’t very strong. So ix-nay on the blueberries. We’re still looking for a good natural blue food dye.
We’ve used these food dyes to color frosting, play dough (check out our post on Sensory Play Dough made with these natural food colorings!), cake batter,… and to make Green Eggs and Ham.