Skip Food Dyes and Master Natural Food Coloring for Frosting
Ditch the dyes! These substitutes for food coloring actually work to tint everything from royal icing to buttercream, and they are made with ingredients you can pronounce. Fruits, veggies, and even teas can help you make vibrant natural food coloring for frosting in a wide variety of hues.
It's true, store-bought food dyes are affordable, convenient, and make many baked goods like cookies and cake recipes look fabulous. But many of us are seeking ways to reduce the artificial ingredients in our diets. The FDA says not-so-natural frosting colorings are Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) in the levels we consume them in, however, they’re really just like makeup for food. They allow us to dress up something that’s perfectly beautiful as is. We get it, though. Sometimes you want more than plain ol’ white frosting, so we tapped our Test Kitchen pros to try out a variety of substitutes for food coloring. Ahead, the best of the best natural frosting coloring ideas for every color in the rainbow.
How to Color Frosting Naturally
Before we dish about how to master natural food coloring for frosting, we have a disclaimer: Pretty much every natural substitute for food coloring will be less vibrant or intense as the commercially-bought bottles of food dye. For the deepest hues, use as concentrated a natural color base as possible, but note that the more you use, the more you might catch a hint of the flavor. (This might actually be an asset with something like strawberry; probably not so much with spinach in a dessert recipe.)
You have two options for natural dyes for frosting:
These offer more color and can be made using a juicer ($130, Target) or you can create a purée by blending an ingredient and pressing it through cheesecloth or a fine-mesh sieve ($10, Bed Bath & Beyond). Use as much produce as it takes to get 1 cup of strained liquid. Then, reduce the liquid in a skillet over medium heat to concentrate the color and remove extra water that might dilute the frosting. Aim for about ¼ cup concentrated liquid as the finished product.
These mix in and dissolve easily. Fruit and vegetable powders are easy to DIY by blending freeze-dried produce ($18, Amazon) in a spice grinder or food processor. For fruits that have seeds, such as strawberries, pass them through a fine-mesh sieve too. Cocoa, coffee, tea, spirulina, spices, and cocoa are already in powder form, so those are easy options.
Just as you would with food dyes, start with a small amount of these natural frosting coloring options and add more as needed to adjust the color to your desired tint. For royal icing, start with 1½ teaspoons of powder or ¾ teaspoon liquid concentrate per cup of icing. For natural food coloring for buttercream frosting, you’ll need more; try 1 tablespoon of powder or 1½ teaspoons concentrate per cup to start and scale up as needed.
Test Kitchen Tip: To avoid clumps, dissolve the natural powder dye in about 1 tablespoon of water before mixing in the frosting itself.
Natural Frosting Coloring Ideas for Every Shade
The only limits for substitutes for food coloring are your time and imagination. Feel free to use the guidance above to experiment and find your own personal favorite natural food colorings for frosting, try our Fresh Strawberry Buttercream recipe as a guide, or try our suggestions below for how to color frosting naturally.
- Pink: Concentrated beet juice, concentrated strawberry juice, strawberry powder, raspberry powder.
- Red: Beet powder.
- Orange: Concentrated carrot juice, carrot powder, sweet potato powder.
- Yellow: Saffron, turmeric. (Simmer 8 ounces water with ⅛ teaspoon of either, then reduce to ¼ cup of concentrated liquid.)
- Green: Matcha, spinach powder, spirulina ($27, Amazon).
- Blue or purple: Blueberry powder, concentrated blueberry juice.
- Brown: Cocoa, tea, coffee.
- Gray or black: Activated charcoal ($12 for 1 pound, Amazon).
Play around with these natural frosting coloring alternatives, then report back in the comments about what worked best for you.