Food Coloring Substitutes

By Tiffany Silverberg

Many people are purging their kitchens and homes of processed, preservative-filled foods, and that even extends to the food colorings they use. However, many people still want to color and dye foods. Baked treats, such as cookies and cakes, as well as Easter eggs, require food coloring to make them look beautful. Fortunately, Mother Nature has given us many colors with which we can work.

Food coloring sources occur in nature.


Beets are so red and richly colored that cooks go to great lengths to avoid being stained by them. Beets also have a light, almost nutty flavor that complements even sweet baked goods. Consequently, simply puréeing or juicing a beet is a good way to get very effective red dye. Mix a drop of this juice into a frosting or dough to make it pink or add a little more for red. Just keep your fingers protected unless you want red fingers for the next few days. Red cabbage also has a red pigment, although its flavors are more bitter than is desired for baked goods. Nonetheless, if you want to use it, boil the vegetable to extract the pigment.


Turmeric has a bright yellow color that is perfect for dying foods. Mix it with boiling water to dye eggs. Curry also has a bright yellow color, usually from the turmeric included in the mixture. However, curry's other ingredients, such as ginger and cumin, have a distinct flavor, so save it for dying foods you won't eat, such as the outside of hard-boiled eggs. Boiling lemon, orange and onion peels will release yellowish pigments ranging from bright yellow to dark yellow to orange. Look to dark leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale and bok choy, for greenish-yellow tints. Tea and coffee give a yellowish-brown color.


Blue is a fairly rare ingredient in natural foods, with the most popular being blueberries, which can be juiced to create dye. Purplish-blue hues may be easier to come by, as they are more readily found in red grape skins, red cabbage and red or purple potato skins.