It’s no secret that a vast majority of snacks, treats, and ingredients stacked high on your local grocery shelves aren’t as all-natural or 100% healthy as the stickers on the packaging claim to be.
Let’s sit back and think about your favourite store snacks. Bright pink cream biscuits reeking of artificial strawberry flavourings, a rainbow of assorted cereals that changes the colour of your milk, the appealing fizz of orange soda. The brilliant, tantalising colours do make foods all the more tempting to eat, but conventional, synthetic food dyes are said to cause hyperactivity in children, allergic reactions, and even cancer!
Artificial food dyes unfortunately are present in most foods readily available in the market. Instead of letting chemical colourings wreak havoc on your wellbeing, Mother Nature offers a bevy of all-natural alternatives for adding a pop of colour to your meals and desserts.
Here’s our handy guide to making your own all-natural food colourings that are safe yet vibrant too:
Red: Beetroot / Pomegranate / Dragonfruit
Beetroot gives off a highly-pigmented, deep crimson shade that will not affect the flavour of your foods. However, if you’d like a fruity tinge to your colouring, pomegranate and dragonfruit work just as well.
- Blend a handful of sliced beetroot or dragonfruit (the one with pink, not white flesh) and strain. If you’re using pomegranate seeds, pulverise them and strain to get the juice.
Orange: Carrot Juice
Add a cheery orange hue with carrot juice! Carrots are also already naturally sweet, making them great for baking. It’s simple – just juice a few carrots and strain.
Yellow: Turmeric / Saffron
Turmeric is popularly used as a dye for various needs – cosmetics, hair, and yes, food. Saffron also gives off great colour, but it is rather on the pricey side. Do take note as both are spices, they do have rather intense aromas and flavours, so a little bit will be more than sufficient.
Green: Spinach Juice / Liquid Chlorophyll / Matcha Powder
Here’s a sneaky way of getting your kids to eat more greens – by making green colouring with spinach juice! And don’t worry – the juice will not impart any of the spinach’s distinctive taste to whatever you’re planning on turning green.
- Boil two cups of green spinach leaves, then reduce to a low flame and allow to simmer until the water in the pot reduces to half. Allow to cool. Blend the spinach and the water it was cooked in together and strain.
Liquid chlorophyll also adds a strong emerald shade, and as it’s usually considered a health food supplement, it’s another good way to sneak more nutrients into your desserts.
For a distinctive green tea flavour, high-quality Japanese matcha powder has a bright hue, and is also a quick way of getting that authentic green tea flavour in your dishes.
Blue: Butterfly Pea flower
This flower will give you the blues… a vivid blue shade, that is! The pea flower is commonly used in Malay cooking, particularly in Nasi Kerabu and Kuih Ketan to obtain a soft azure colour.
- To get the same effect, grab a few pea flowers and place into a jar. Add water to it and mash the flowers with a spoon. Leave the flowers to soak for a few hours to obtain a stronger shade. Strain.
If you’re a fan of adding blueberries to your water, you’d have probably noticed the pretty purple magically swirling around in your bottle. Add a touch of this regal colour to your foods by blending blueberries with some water, and straining the juice out.
Black: Activated Charcoal / Squid Ink
Activated charcoal powder, made from bamboo, adds a luxurious dark shade to pastries, breads and cakes, and is a popular flavour variant in Asia. Don’t worry – it won’t turn your teeth black!
For a more savoury note, squid ink adds a slightly salty flavour to pasta and rice, while giving it a classic look too. After all, in the words of Morticia Addams, ‘black is such a happy colour!’
*Note that some of these may stain, and that vegetable-based dyes may turn brown upon baking.
However, adding an acid medium such as buttermilk into the batter/dough will help to maintain the vibrancy of the food dyes’ colours. Adding a bit of lemon juice to the dyes themselves also keeps the colours of your dishes vibrant, even after baking.