A few years ago I clued in to the fact that food colouring is nasty stuff and I haven’t looked back since. Like far too many processed products that are on our supermarket shelves, food colouring is made from ingredients that can’t be considered real food (petroleum anyone?!) And, evidence is mounting that they are likely to cause a scary assortment of side effects, in particular hyperactivity in children and quite possibly, cancer.
To me a brightly coloured treat just isn’t worth the risk, so I choose to use natural food colours to hue my icing. Natural food stores usually carry at least one ready-made option, and I do use them from time to time, but they are very expensive and hard to source where I live, so this season I’ve making my own using brightly coloured fruits and vegetables.
Admittedly, homemade natural colours are not as vibrant as artificial ones and are undoubtedly more “earthy” looking, but there is beauty in that and my kids don’t seem to notice the difference at all. And even better, they don’t notice any odd flavour coming through. To them, it is just yummy coloured icing.
Because most of these colours are very “liquidy” I recommend making your icing thicker than normal, so that it doesn’t become too thin once you add the colour. Add just a very small amount of the colour to your icing at a time, so that you can carefully gage the colour, thickness and the taste. Too much colour and you will have soupy mess that tastes a bit too much like cooked vegetables.
For icing my festive cookies, I use a very simple mix of organic icing sugar and a bit of water, and that is the icing recipe that has been tested on these colours. Feel free to experiment with your own favourite icing but know that the formulations below have only been tested on a fat free icing that contains no acid such as lemon juice. The photo shown in the post is of my basic icing with the colours added.
Chop up a quarter of a beet into very small pieces. Just cover with water and microwave for 1 minute. Pour beet and water into a fine sieve or cheese cloth with a bowl underneath and press out as much moisture as possible into the bowl. Presto- red food colouring.
Add to icing a quarter teaspoon at a time until you get the hue and consistency you need.
This is the easiest. Just add a pinch or two of ground dried ground turmeric.
To icing add as spoon of red colour as described above, plus a pinch of turmeric.
Chop up a quarter of a purple cabbage, put it in a pot and cover it with water. Boil for at least 10 minutes. Water should be a deep purple.
Discard the cabbage and put the purple coloured water in a bowl. Allow to cool complexly then add ½ teaspoon of baking soda. Add to icing 1/2 teaspoon at a time.
Follow the instructions for purple colour. Once cool, add a pinch of baking soda to create a blue hue. You can add more baking soda to make it a stronger colour, but be careful not to add too much as it has a very strong flavour and will affect the taste of the icing.
Add sparingly to icing, because the baking soda flavour will come through if you add too much. Blue colour will fade over time so eat up the treats quickly.
I’ve heard of people using spinach to make green colouring, but I personally have not had much success with it and find that the colour turns out too swampy and the cooking process is too long.
To make a cool icy green I prefer to use a small spoonful of the blue colouring as described above, plus a pinch of turmeric. Blue and yellow makes green so it works!
Good luck and happy cookie making!