From spinach and red cabbage to blackberries and strawberries, you can actually make whatever natural colour you like for your food.
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Have you ever wondered why some food is just so vibrant with colour?
Pst… They have food colouring in them. It’s usually the artificial ones that give out long-lasting and very pigmented colours to food. Artificial colouring used to come from tar but not anymore! Now, people use petroleum in our artificial colouring.
But what if you want to skip the artificial colouring and go all organic?
Did you know that before there was artificial food colouring, we just used whatever natural sources they can find and used that to make coloured food or products?
How Do They Extract The Colors?
For food, there are two ways to create a natural food colouring which are in powdered form or in liquid form.
For the liquid form, you can just slice and boil the ingredients in water and then strain them. Then take the liquid and simmer it under low heat to turn it into a concentrated dye that you can keep in a bottle.
You can also make it into a puree by simply chopping, boiling, and pureeing them into a thick paste.
For the powdered form, you can slice or grate the ingredients into very thin pieces. Then you can either dry them in the sun, pop them in the oven for a bit or fry them in a cooking pan (without the oil), just to get them crispy and to easily crumble. After that, pop them in your grinder and make yourself a powder.
Here are the ingredients that make colourful things colourful
The food that we’re talking about can range from desserts like pastries, cakes and frosting to savoury meals like curries, pasta and snacks.
Here are some of the edible ingredients you can use to make colourful food, just for fun.
Fun Fact: Did you know that turmeric is used to give mustard a deep yellow colour?
- Custard powder
Turmeric and custard powder are already in a powdered form which makes them easier to use. For saffron, you can also pulverise them carefully with this traditional method.
Saffon could be a little premium so you could opt for turmeric to create yellow colours. However, if you don’t want a turmeric-flavoured cake, then you could opt for custard powder.
Fun Fact: You can make orange-coloured pasta from carrots!
- Sweet potato
For the carrots, you can grate them and fry them until they’re crispy. Then grind them into a powder.
For the sweet potato, you can cut, boil and puree them into a paste.
You can slice the beets, dry them and grind them into a powder. For tomatoes, you can cut, boil them in a saucepan, smush them into a pulp and strain them, leaving a liquid red form. The same method goes for pomegranates.
Fun Fact: Did you know that some red colour comes from insects called cochineal? They farm it, crush it and most often use it in cosmetics like lipstick and eyeshadow for bright, vibrant reds!
It was a ruckus before this but they changed the name from cochineal to carminic acid. So you may be eating bugs with your red-coloured candies or ice cream.
Starbucks also had it in their strawberry-flavoured drinks before but it was changed to another colouring ingredient following a public outcry.
For these fruits, you can use the boiling method, or just crush them all on a strainer and extract the juice. Another easy way is to freeze-dry them and then just pulverise them when you need them.
- dragon fruit (pitaya)
Fun Fact: There’s even a dragon fruit flavoured chicken and prawn at a restaurant in Sepang.
You can actually get a taste of everything pitaya flavoured at this HL Dragon Fruit Farm in Sepang. Besides learning to cultivate dragon fruits, you can taste their sweet and savoury menu inspired by the fruit.
Blueberries don’t make blue food though, but it does give off a rather cool deep purple colour. You can mash them or boil them into a puree or liquid. The same goes for the purple sweet potato and yam.
- purple sweet potato
Fun Fact: Although they’re both potatoes, purple sweet potatoes and yam are two different kinds of potatoes with different origins.
Blueberries turn food into purple and black berries turn food into blue? What are the odds?
For the blackberries, you can use the same method of extracting the colours as other berries. But for red cabbage and butterfly pea, you can simply use the boiling method.
Red cabbage will give out a dark purple colour when cooked but you can add baking soda to make it the blue hue you want.
- red cabbage + baking soda
- butterfly pea
Fun Fact: You can change the colour of the red cabbage and butterfly pea solution by changing their pH balance.
If you add baking soda, it’ll be alkaline and turn blue. If you add lemon, it’ll be acidic and turn light purple or red.
As matcha is already a powder, you can straightly use that in your baking. For spinach, you can use boiling, blending and straining methods to get that green colour.
Meanwhile, you can also just cut, blend with water and strain the pandan to get a fragrant and green colour for your desserts.
Fun Fact: Kuih Tako, Seri Muka, and Onde-onde all use pandan leaves in their recipes.
This one goes without saying. As you would naturally add these into your drinks to make your favourite caffeine or choco malt drink, you can also add these ingredients in your cooking and baking as well.
Activated charcoal (should not be taken with medicine as they won’t absorb it) and squid ink are a bit hard to make or extract from scratch at home. You should just get them commercially from the store if you can.
Alternatively, you can also get a black colour if you mix other natural food colourings together like red, green and blue.
- Squid ink
- Activated charcoal
- Dark cocoa powder
Fun Fact: Squid ink is not suitable for desserts as they have a salty and savoury taste to it – they’re mostly used in pasta, rice and sauces.
However, with natural food colouring, how organic they may seem, there are a few downsides to it.
- They can fade over time
- They’re not that vibrant
- A bit costly for some vegetables or plant
- Quite hard and time-consuming to make
- It comes with the taste of the source
For example, you can’t go around making a yellow cake that tastes like turmeric, right? That’ll be a turmeric-flavoured cake, not really an enjoyable taste, we’re afraid.
Apart from making food from these natural colourings, did you know that we can also use natural plants to make fabric dyes?
There are a few interesting options for fabric dyes which includes onion skins, avocado seeds, black beans, henna, roses and many more. But that’s another topic for another day.