You've come up with the perfect idea for iced Halloween cookies, except for one minor detail: The neighborhood grocery stores are out of black food coloring. Instead of settling for dark blue or red, whip up your own bat-worthy black by mixing other food-coloring shades, or by using activated charcoal or black cocoa powder to tint your culinary creation.
Mixing Makes Black Food Coloring
Like stirring different colors of paint together, combining different shades of food coloring is a great way to come up with your own custom color such as black. For most recipes, a gel-based food coloring is the best choice for making black, as it requires smaller quantities to achieve a true black than when you're using liquid food coloring. If the item you're dyeing is a liquid, such as lemonade, stick with liquid food coloring, as the gels won't dissolve as well.
To make black food dye, start with a small batch first, as exact proportions will vary depending upon what you're trying to tint. The brand of food coloring may also affect the final tint. For starters, mix two parts blue food coloring to five parts green and three parts red.
Stir thoroughly; then spread a small amount on a white paper towel or mix the black directly into a little water. The color should look black. If not, balance out the colors with more food coloring. For instance, if the shade looks too red, add a little more green until the end result looks black.
Once the dye resembles black, mix it into your recipe, keeping track of the exact proportions of each color. If it looks more like gray food coloring, double or triple the amount of the black dye mixture in the recipe. For a large batch of white icing, for instance, it could take quite a bit of black food coloring to turn the icing black.
The Activated Charcoal Method
Food-grade activated charcoal, used in everything from black cocktail recipes to black ice cream, works quite well as a black food dye since the charcoal is black. It's also completely natural, so it's a great alternative to traditional food coloring for those sensitive to food dyes. Don't worry; it doesn't taste like charcoal left over from last night's barbecue; it imparts very little, if any, flavor to a recipe.
Mix up a batch of activated-charcoal food dye by blending 2 teaspoons of activated charcoal powder with 1 tablespoon hot water, stirring well. Mix this into your recipe a few drops at a time, as it may not take much charcoal liquid to create a dark black hue. If you need more charcoal liquid to achieve the desired tint, mix up an extra batch and add it to the recipe a few drops at a time.
The Black Cocoa Powder Method
As the name suggests, black cocoa powder is a bit darker than natural cocoa powder. The darker color comes from a process called Dutching, which removes some of the acidity that naturally occurs in cocoa powder. Dutched cocoa powder is less acidic and slightly darker than natural cocoa powder, while black cocoa powder is even more Dutched, resulting in a darker hue.
Like comparing milk chocolate and extra dark chocolate, black cocoa powder adds a hint of bitterness to a recipe, compared to natural cocoa powder. Both have a chocolatey flavor, so they're perfect for chocolate cakes or cookies. Black cocoa powder can also be used to tint non-chocolate icings by stirring in a small amount of powder at a time.
Mix up a black cocoa-powder food coloring by stirring 1 part black cocoa powder into 3 parts hot water, keeping in mind that the liquid content counts for some of the liquid in your original recipe. Stir the cocoa solution into your recipe a small amount at a time, until the recipe achieves the desired color.
Kathy Adams is an award-winning writer and avid DIYer. She has written numerous recipes for grocery store chains, as well as articles tool and paint manufacturers and travel sites. She also writes about the best neighborhood restaurants and bars for upscale real-estate firms around the country. Her work also appears on USA Today Travel, Hunker and Landlordology, among other sites.