The Natural Dye Alternative

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I have to admit that being a mother to a child who is sensitive to food dye had its moments of disappointment. I grew up in a home where we were blessed to eat homemade dinners almost every night. That didn’t mean, however, that our home didn’t contain the staples of Top Ramen, Kraft Mac&Cheese, processed cheese slices and Cambell’s soup concentrate. My mom did a good job feeding us considering that I don’t think we ever questioned the quality of the ingredients in mainstream marketed food products. We used to take dye and add it to food for fun. Like blue pancakes or green mac&cheese. In fact, I used to do the same fun things for little kids I used to babysit not having any idea that dye mattered. It just never occured to me.

That changed with my daughter. We discovered artificial food dye just wasn’t going to be allowed in our home for the mental health and sanity of us all. It turns out we are not the only ones affected by this chemical sensitivity and even the Lancet came out with a November 2007 study (random, double-blind and placebo controlled) that links hyperactivity to artificial chemicals and preservatives. We have had to be more creative in the types of sweets and treats we allow our daughter to have. This past Halloween was interesting in that I found all dye-free candy to give to her to replace the Halloween candy she got from Church during our Trunk-or-Treat.

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I can’t tell you how pleased I was when I discovered natural food coloring prior to Camden’s third birthday. She wanted pink and purple cupcakes and I was pondering on how to make them. Lo and behold, I came across India Tree’s natural food dye. I purchased my set on Amazon.com.

India Tree’s food dye is vegetable based and contains no corn syrup or synthetic dyes. The pitfalls are that you will be hard pressed to get any primary looking colors out of this dye. At the most magenta is about as close as you will get to “red”. It is also pretty pricey.

However, for people like me this is just a wonderful alternative. It was wonderful to make my little girl fun homemade cupcakes for her Birthday and to make traditional frosted sugar cookies for Christmas or to dye easter eggs for Easter. We are pretty devastated right now because we can’t find our India Tree dye, we lost it sometime over Christmas so we’ll keep looking for it. Wish us luck! Here are Camden’s Birthday Cupcakes.

India Tree also carries a variety of natural dyed decorating sugars. However, they are not the only company offering synthetic free alternatives. The following companies also offer natural dyes.

Nature’s Flavors – They also give directions on how to use their dyes for Easter Egg coloring.

Seelect – Colors are sold separately.

If you don’t have the money to purchase any of these products there are also helpful sites that offer foodsource alternatives for getting the color you need. Here is one site.

Also, we found sprinkles that are colored with natural dye as well and we love them! We’ve also used chocolate candy coated sunflower seeds (purchased at Trader Joe’s)t o use as sprinkles on ice-cream.

Let’s Do Sprinklez

Please let me know if you know of any other natural food dye brands and I will post them.

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28 comments

  1. alice · January 7, 2012

    ok i have a mission impossible here that need help. I am attempt to make rainbow color (all 7) cake for my sons upcoming 2 & 5 yro birthday whom have multiple food allergies. Just limit corn and soy from their diet eliminate his asthma drug free completedly so I desperated wanting to find better alternative before I have to go conventional. Have not baked in ages so what cake mix, frosting, decorating stuff has any one found managable?

  2. Erin · October 18, 2011

    Not everything is good on the India Tree site: Christmas Sprinkles have Sugar, corn starch, confectioner’s glaze (shellac from lac beetles), FDC Yellow 5, Red 3, Blue 1, Red 40, carnauba (like the car wax)
    wax, FDC

  3. Kyoki · August 9, 2011

    For frosting and cake batter, you can take jellies of the appropriate colors- strawberry, grape, apricot, cherry- and melt a spoonful of the jelly and stir it into the frosting. It gives you pretty pinks, purples, golds- it’s usually best to use jellies for frosting, though, because jams have chunky bits in them.

  4. mhaus · May 30, 2011

    Trader Joe’s sells unsweetened freeze dried strawberries and blueberries. Grind them up to a powder and add them to your frosting. I used strawberries for my cream cheese frosting as an alternative to fresh strawberries so that my frosting is firm enough for piping. It turned a pretty pink with an awesome strawberry flavor to boot!

  5. Teri · April 17, 2011

    Does anyone know if you use vinegar in the India Tree natural food coloring when coloring Easter eggs?

  6. Beth Welsh · April 7, 2011

    We’ve recently put our son on gluten free/dye free diet while trying to get a handle on his behavior. For us, it seems like the main culprit is the yellows, though I’m loathe to let him have any dyes at this point. They hide in insidious places. But I have noticed that foods are slowly starting to change what they use. Pop-chips use paprika for coloring instead of a synthetic. That made me really happy. I’m trying to find a good way to get a real red, since India Tree doesn’t really make one. Pink is good for girls, but my son whines about it.

  7. Talina · March 15, 2011

    Great post!! We are looking for some way to make Elmo red for my daughter’s 2nd birthday. Have you come across and ways to darken the pink and make it more red?

    • journeytocrunchville · March 15, 2011

      I haven’t had any personal success but I’ve just avoided red. I’d think with strawberries or beets you might have some success. Or you could skip trying to make a red cake and make a cake and put some Elmo Figurines on it…that is the route I’ve gone. Plus, many more adults will eat a cake that isn’t dyed with many colors.

    • Scereyaha · August 25, 2013

      If you add something yellow (like turmeric) to something magenta (like beetroot), it will make it look much more red. You could make it a bit darker using a bit of coffee or very dark chocolate/coco, but too much will make it start to look brown. A very intense red might require a lot of colouring and start to affect the flavour, so I would suggest taste testing carefully as you go.

  8. Kelley O · March 6, 2011

    I was just doing some “research” for my next blog entry when I came across your article. Great tips from you, the author, as well as your readers. I’m thinking I may try boiling down the beet juice for my daughters upcoming birthday celebration. We’ll see!

  9. Kris Mazy · October 24, 2010

    THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! My middle daughter is deathly allergic to red dyes and for the last 3 years we have been searching for something to make her a pink birthday cake (she turns 7 in December) We have been trying different juices, but haven’t found anything that get it pink-pink! I will check out those natural dyes.

  10. miki · February 8, 2010

    natural dye is the ideal ingredient for health purpose. If you want to search the source for natural dye, our website may provide you some information.

  11. Albertina Beemon · January 5, 2010

    Well, maybe not so ideal but big change to the world of internet.

  12. Susan E · October 5, 2009

    Oops, I meant “useful post”. :)

  13. Susan E · October 5, 2009

    Use post. I was googling natural dyes and your blog came up. I have the colored sugar (for sugar cookies) from India Tree and they work great and it’s nice knowing we aren’t feeding our kids petroleum.

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  15. Sabrina · January 14, 2009

    For my Daughters birthday cake with pink frosting:

    Take 3 cans of beets, drain the juice of the beets into a sauce pan, bring to boil and continue to boil until it is reduced by atleast half, then turn down just a bit and continue to cook (stirring frequently) until it is thick and syrupy.

    It produces such a a beautiful color and you cant taste it at all in frosting. Just a dab is all you need, add more for more intense color.
    3 cans of juice boils down to like 3 tablespoons but a little goes a long way. Freeze the rest for later use.

    Fabulous recipe!

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  18. journeytocrunchville · April 14, 2008

    Kirsten, thanks for the website tip!

  19. journeytocrunchville · April 14, 2008

    Thanks for stopping by David and thanks for the link. We also try to avoid MSG. I am so glad to hear about your grandsons recovery. It is amazing what a little diet change can accomplish. We too bake our own goods and homemade cakes are usually quite simple and not much more involved than a box mix. We made a great chocolate cake this week for my step-daughter’s 8th Birthday if you’d like the recipe.

  20. David Frantz · April 13, 2008

    Great article on food colorings. We too have struggled with our grandson’s sensitivity to food colorings, especially red and blue. This was found after we spent several years tracing some emotional and behavioral issues back to MSG in his food. His doctor was the one who suggested that we also watch for food coloring.

    Since we eliminated the MSG and food dyes from his diet, he is a different child, one that loves the world and behaves like any normal 5 year old. If anyone is interested in knowing about what we went through, your can read about it at the web address below or you can contact me personally. http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/451066/monosodium_glutamate_and_my_grandson.html

    His 6th birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks and we are now looking for natural food colorings for his birthday cake, (which he can very seldom eat because of the additives in cake mixes and synthetic colorings in frosting). Fortunately there are many colors to choose from and we now make all baked good from scratch.

    We look at food and food additives in a totally different way than we did 9 months ago. The benefit is, my wife and I have eliminated many harmful chemicals from our diet also.

  21. Kirstin Boncher · April 2, 2008

    I LOVE INDIA TREE and I love the pic you have of all the colors they have. My pantry is full of the colored sugars for cookies. I buy them at Dean and Deluca or allergygrocer.com
    Thanks again.

  22. Bridal Shoes · March 7, 2008

    Very good and useful post.
    Thx, your blog in my RSS reader now ;)

  23. Kristina · February 29, 2008

    I was going to post the same ideas but it looks like others beat me to it! Anyway here’s another article on dyeing easter eggs naturally that I remember being excited about when I first read it years ago. Hopefully this year will be the year we actually do this. It sounds really fun.

    http://www.marthastewart.com/portal/site/mslo/menuitem.3a0656639de62ad593598e10d373a0a0/?vgnextoid=546576ecfd22f010VgnVCM1000003d370a0aRCRD&autonomy_kw=easter%20egg%20dye&rsc=header_4

  24. Beth · February 26, 2008

    Hope Camden had a good birthday

  25. journeytocrunchville · February 25, 2008

    These are the examples given on Allergy Grocer, one of the links I put in the site, for dying eggs.

    Egg Coloring Ideas
    Source: Diane Hartman

    These are things I have used to color Easter eggs: If you are using the dyes to make colored icing or dry items like play dough, omit the vinegar.

    Dried powdered spinach will make a yellowish green. Add 1 teaspoon vinegar to 2 tablespoons powdered spinach and 1 cup boiling water

    Dried dark red beets will make a red or pink shade(depending on how much you use.) You can use them in the wet form, if you smash them, and strain the juice thru cheese cloth. You can also use dried red beets to make a great pink or red icing(perfect for valentines day) it does not effect the flavor. Strawberry juice or jam also work well for a flavored red or pink icing.

    Red onion skins use very little water, boil and then strain thru cheese cloth

    Yellow- turmeric(for Easter eggs 1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric + 2/3 cup boiling water and 1/2 teaspoon vinegar

    Brown dyes- 1 tablespoon instant coffee(or loose tea) 2/3 cup boiling water 3/4 teaspoon vinegar tea and coffee produce different shades of brown, so you might to experiment with this one. For an even different color(darker) brown use, but use cocoa powder instead of coffee

    red cabbage juice makes a bluish color

    Blackberry juice- reddish blue dye

    Blueberry juice- bluish grey dye

    Violet dyes:
    1/2 cup violet blossoms(can be found in the spring)
    1 cup boiling water Allow to stand for three hours, and then strain thru cheese cloth. This will make a purple-blue dye

    Lavender- add 1/8 cup lemon juice, it will cause some type of chemical reaction and make lavender color

    Green: Add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and the dye will turn green, and if you allow it to stand for several hours to overnight, it will turn a dark yellow or orange

  26. brightonwoman · February 25, 2008

    A lot of vegetables make great dyes (we use them for easter eggs)
    I don’t remember them all off the top of my head, but here are a couple:
    onion skins–make a deep yellow/gold color
    beet peelings–dark purply/pink
    red cabbage–pink
    You just have to add a little vinegar to make the colors set.

    Darn I wish I could remember more right now–if you find more, I’d love to see a list! I’m currently working on over-dying some bright red yarn with onion skin to make it a darker, more burgandy color…we’ll see how it works!!!

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