How To Make Natural Food Coloring

How to make natural food coloring? The answer's easy. Here's how to make it homemade from scratch in shades of red, green, yellow, and blue, with no artificial coloring, no preservatives, and no monumental price tag. Just fruits and vegetables.

How To Make Natural Food Coloring Recipe

Knowing how to make natural food coloring from scratch is something we’ve been wanting to do for literally years and years and years. And after trying countless different approaches, we finally we have the DIY natural food coloring recipe we’ve been wanting, seeking, and needing. No artificial colors. No preservatives. And no monumental price tag. Just vegetables and fruits and water. Keep in mind that when mixed into frostings or icing, natural food coloring will create lovely pastels rather than incredibly vibrant and nearly neon hues. Originally published November 29, 2014.Renee Schettler Rossi

How To Make Natural Food Coloring Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 5 M
  • 10 M
  • Makes 1/4 cup each

Ingredients

  • For pink food coloring
  • 1/4 cup (62 grams) canned beets, drained
  • 1 teaspoon drained beet juice from the can
  • For yellow food coloring
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • For purple food coloring
  • 1/4 cup (35 grams) blueberries, fresh or frozen (if frozen, thaw and drain)
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • For green food coloring
  • 1 cup (30 grams) spinach, fresh or frozen (if frozen, thaw and drain)
  • 3 tablespoons water, plus more as needed

Directions

  • 1. Choose your color below and simply follow the instructions.

Choose Your Color

  • Pink
  • In a high-speed blender or food processor, mix the beets and juice together until smooth. Strain if desired.
  • Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Add 1 teaspoon to icings, frostings, or batter for starters to impart a pink hue. Add more coloring, if necessary.
  • Yellow
  • In a small saucepan, boil the water and turmeric for 3 to 5 minutes. Allow to fully cool.
  • Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Turmeric can stain, so use a container you don’t mind turning yellow. Add 1 teaspoon to icings, frostings, or batter for starters to impart a yellow hue. Add more coloring, if necessary. [Editor’s Note: Be careful when working with turmeric as it tends to stain whatever it comes in contact with, including countertops and wee fingers.]
  • Purple
  • In a high-speed blender or food processor, blend the blueberries and water together until smooth. Using a fine-mesh sieve, strain the skins from the mix.
  • Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Add 1 teaspoon to icings, frostings, or batter for starters to impart a purple hue. Add more coloring, if necessary.
  • Green
  • If using fresh spinach, in a small saucepan, boil the spinach in enough water to cover for 5 minutes. Drain, discarding the cooking liquid. If using frozen and thawed spinach, skip to the next step.
  • In a high-speed blender or food processor, blend the spinach and water together until completely smooth. If the mixture clumps or stubbornly refuses to blend, add more water as needed, 1 tablespoon at a time. Strain, if desired, and let cool.
  • Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Add 1 teaspoon to icings, frostings or batter for starters to impart a green hue. Add more coloring, if necessary.
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Recipe Testers Reviews

These instructions for how to make natural food coloring are easy to follow and everything come together quickly, each one taking less than 5 minutes (if you don't count the half hour to allow some of the mixtures to cool). Our color testers included a 10-year-old and an 8-year-old. They swirled the final colors into bright white vanilla yogurt and and the results were delightful. Each color is a pretty hue—soft green, lemony yellow, light purple, and a pale pink that got the most enthusiastic chorus of "Ooooh!" and "Ahhhh!"

A few notes: Our blender must not be as powerful as some as the mixtures were a bit chunky. So we ended up straining each. It was easy to do and added maybe another 30 seconds to the overall time. We had fresh beets and fresh turmeric in the house, so we used those, grating each finely. The lemon yellow from the fresh turmeric is especially bright and fresh and satisfying. (Be aware! Turmeric REALLY stains. Make sure everyone is wearing an apron when playing with the colors.) We had a great time with this simple recipe and definitely will make these colors again.

With the problems of artificial colorings in our food chain, this natural food coloring recipe was a pleasure to try. For the pink, I believe you can use fresh beets that have been cooked and use the cooking water. For the purple, the total time, including clean up, was just 5 minutes. For the green, I used fresh spinach.

Comments

      1. Hi! I have been making natural bath bombs and my friends were asking for other colors besides my pink. Can these recipes be used for the bath bombs which are stored in the fridge?

        1. Barbara, we haven’t used these colorings in that capacity and so I can’t say for certain but I don’t see why not. Just a heads up, these natural colorings produce paler shades and not the crazy vibrant neon colors that artificial dyes create. If you do use these in homemade bath bombs, kindly let us know how it goes!

  1. For the beet (pink) version, you can also use beet powder. This ingredient is used as a colorant in Indian cooking, and is more concentrated yielding a brighter deeper pink/magenta. I found it on Amazon; it makes a lovely deep red-colored curry when combined with turmeric.

  2. I recently made plum jam, for the first time, and it ended up being a pretty red color when finished. I was thinking, while I was cooking it, if there would be a way to use plums to get a red food coloring. I’m not great in a kitchen, but am trying to learn. Do you think using plums would result in a red food color & if so, exactly what would the process be to use this for food coloring? Thank you for the recipes to make food coloring from natural sources :)

    1. Hi Vicki, we did not run plums through our testing process so I’m reluctant to guarantee results or try and guess at proportions. That being said, the skins of the plums should yield a beautiful color when simmered in a bit of water. I would play around with amounts to get to the perfect color and intensity.

    2. did you ever try that ? if so how did it come out. I tried the beets, and it came out tasting like beets and i hate beets.

      1. Hmmm. Sorry to hear that, love. We tried it and couldn’t detect beets, although diff varieties do have diff levels of, uh, earthiness, shall we say? Vicki, did you happen to try the frosting using plum? Many thanks, both of you.

        1. for a brightish blue you can add a tiny bit of bicarb (baking soda) to concentrated water of cooking red cabbage. Cabbage is a pH indicator I believe. Only thing is that it must be just enough, because it may give a bicarb taste. I tried it once for blue icing. It did end up a nice pale blue.

    1. Use blue butterfly pea flowers for a nice shade of blue, should be able to order organic ones online, its been used for the longest time in some asian cooking/desserts. Try here and here.

    1. Cari, I was told that they’re ink bottles and that you can find them in craft stores and etsy, among other places online. They’re lovely, aren’t they?

    1. Just be aware that some kids (like my son) react badly to annatto (we end up with a day of tantrums whenever he has something with it in). Others are fine with it (like my daughter). Thanks for all the ideas!

      1. Sarah, thank you for making us aware of this. I’m sure so many parents appreciate you raising their awareness of this issue.

      2. Annatto contains salicylates. it also might have sodium benzoate as a preservative. Both salicylates and benzoates can trigger bad behavior, moodiness, and attention deficit in people with a sensitivity to them. If this happens with other foods as well, or at times when tiredness is not a likely cause, you might want to check in on the Feingold Group or Feingold Diet. It worked for my son.

  3. Upthread Dona K. suggested using beet powder for a more vibrant pink color. Do you think dehydrating and pulverizing some of these ingredients would have a desirable effect?

    1. I haven’t tried it so I can’t say for certain, kitchenbeard. The only hesitation I have is whether the ingredients may lose some of their innate vibrancy while being dehydrated. I imagine beets would work fine since they seem to have sufficient color to more than offset a little loss. But the others I’m concerned may turn out a little drab. Also, they would need to be very finely and evenly ground so as to impart a color that’s not speckled. What are your thoughts?

  4. Can these be frozen instead of refrigerated? I would love to make a bunch to have on hand and pull out whenever needed.

    1. Hi Hattie, we didn’t try freezing it during our initial test, but one of our testers is going to make up a batch today and freeze it. Stay tuned, we’ll be back in touch.

  5. We tried freezing our two favorite of these colors, the yellow and the pink. The process did not effect the brightess of the coloring one bit. Seems like a great way to use this recipe – portioned out in teaspoons or tablespoons, then into the freezer.

  6. Do you have any experience with adding the colors to DIY lotions, lip balms, etc? Will the colors when mixed into the body products, stain skin and/or clothes and does it have any smell?

    1. Kimberly, we have only tried these natural food colorings in icing for cookies, not in any sort of DIY beauty products. But we like the way you’re thinking and wish you good luck with your experimenting!

    2. Did you try this in any beauty products, Kimberly? I am wanting to make bath bombs, but wondering if the colouring will ‘go off’ if not used within a few weeks.

  7. My blueberry juice seems to be oxidising and becoming brown! Made the colours for use tomorrow and I think it’ll totally be brown by tomorrow morning… :(

    1. How did you store your juice, Eunice? If you are having problems with the juice oxidizing, store them in an appropriately sized airtight container filled to the brim with juice. Or you might try freezing them. Or adding a smidgen of lemon juice.

      1. Thank you for the tip! :) I ended up using fake colouring for blue but the others turned up a nice pastel :)

  8. Hi…I have been on a mad hunt for a way to make a natural pink cake for my daughter’s birthday. I’ve been down the beet road without success. The color bakes out! Eek! Such a bummer. Do you have any other suggestions to get a pink color naturally? If you would like to see my failed attempts, please peek at my blog…luckynumber3.com.

    1. Ah, we’d been using the food coloring only in frosting, Amanda. Sorry to hear the color baked out. I’m wondering, what if you simmered some pomegranate juice down to a syrup so as to concentrate the pigment and then stir some of that into the batter?

  9. Thanks for the fast reply! No worries, I did my baking before I found your site. The pomegranate idea sounds like a possibility. If I try it, I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks again!

    Amanda

  10. Hi. You say with the green food colouring to discarded the water but then to blend the spinich with water? Is that with the same water or different water?
    Thanks in advance.

    1. Kat, you discard the water that the spinach was cooked in and then you add the amount of water in the ingredient list. Does that clarify things?

    1. We haven’t attempted that, Lupita, so we can’t say for certain, but I see no reason why it wouldn’t!

  11. I’m making a cake for my son’s birthday but want to make it a day in advance. If I use these colorings for the icing, will the icing turn brown or anything if it sits for a ~day?

    1. rigglez, no, none of our testers had that happen. Also, just a heads up, keep in mind the colors of these tend to be slightly less intense than the ones with all the preservatives and artificial colors.

      1. So I should be able to make the colors and mix them with the icing the day before I want to ice the cake (as long as I keep it in the refrigerator).

  12. For green I simply use liquid chlorophyll. A finy drop will do ya. Beet powder for pink, turmeric for yellow. Beet powder and spinach powder are available by the scoop at my local natural foods store — I believe they are from Frontier.

    1. Lovely tricks and tips, Patricia, thank you! If only every natural foods store had those powders available in bulk!

    1. Jodi, I’m sorry to hear that, perhaps you used a little more than we did or maybe your turmeric was fresher. As for an alternate, saffron would work quite nicely. It’s a little pricier, but with less potential aftertaste. Simply crush a thread or two into a bowl and cover with a small amount of hot water. When the liquid is infused with color, stir it, a few drops at a time, into your icing until you achieve the desired color.

  13. I have made a pale pink icing simply by subbing a dark fruit juice for the milk in any frosting recipe. Grape juice makes a pretty mauve.

    1. Oh and thank you for the recipes—was looking for a natural green for St. Patrick’s Day. Planning to make the kids spiced zucchini pancakes tinted green for a breakfast treat!

    1. You’re so very welcome, sapa! How lovely that you took the time to leave such a nice comment. We so appreciate it!

    1. Evan, I like the way you’re thinking! I haven’t tried this so can’t say for certain but I think the resulting coloring may be a touch grainy. This would be more noticeable in, say, colored icing for cookies than it woulds a cake batter. Whether or not it turns out grainy depends, I suppose, on just how finely you can grind the dehydrated fruit. If you do try it, you may wish to stir the dried fruit powder into a little warm water to try to evenly disperse it before adding it to the icing or batter or whatever you wish to color. Good luck and kindly let us know how it goes!

  14. Hi,
    I’d like to apply the recipes to make edible fake blood. Any suggestions? Do the colorants stain on skin and textiles? Are they washable?

    Thank you for these great recipes…

    1. Zulal, thanks so much for your interest in our natural food coloring! As we mention in the note above the recipe, these colors tend to be a little less vibrant than the color you obtain with the usual bottled food dye. As much of a proponent that I am of natural food coloring, I’m worried that you might not be able to get a dark enough shade of red to imitate blood. If you wish to try it anyways, please be warned that yes, beet juice does stain. Pomegranate juice is another natural red dye but that, too, stains. I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help. Kindly let us know what you decide to try!

    1. Camira, when we added just enough ingredients to tinge the frosting a pastel color, we didn’t taste the ingredients. It all depends on how much you add. Good luck and let us know how it goes!

  15. Onion juice works for yellow and matcha green tea powder or spirulena for green. I’ve also had good results with very concentrated homemade purees or reduced and pureed homemade jams. Hope it helps someone. I love the article and have printed it. Thank you!

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your suggestions, Annie! They’re magnificent! Greatly appreciate them!

  16. Hello,
    Is there a way to make these natural food colors oil based? I make my own lip balms, lotions, and soaps, and it is very difficult to blend water based colors into the oil/bees wax mixtures and powders are gritty in the lip balm. Thank you! Kelly

    1. Kelly, I’m afraid we don’t have any experience with making these oil based. That’s not to say it can’t be done, but we simply lack the know how. ButI love the way you’re thinking. Best of luck to you!

  17. Can the natural food colour be used in DIY body scrubs? If so how long can the scrub be used for (since there are no added preservatives)…thanks in advance.

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