Sometimes when I see the end result of my coloured icing, vibrant blues, and sunshine yellow I wonder if consuming something that is that luminous is good for me, or the friends I am feeding the cake to. Ultimately I think as long as you aren’t eating tonnes of the stuff there is no harm, but this occasional concern has led me to seek out some more natural food colourings to use in my baking.
Now, I learnt very early on that with natural food colourings you are never going to get the same results as using artificial colouring so I would never use them in cake where the bright colours in the sponge or the icing are important – like a lego cake or something similar. But, natural food dyes can work really well for certain cakes.
Waitrose natural food colouring range
Waitrose have produced a range of natural food colourings, which cost around a £1 each, using various natural alternatives to colour their dyes. Amongst the colours are red, blue, pink, green and yellow. These dyes are food for icing, but I would recommend that you don’t use any of them in a sponge as they most are barely noticeable and they all seem to change colour once they have been in the oven.
The red colouring uses paprika extract as one of its natural colourings. The dye works well to colour icing or marzipan in a very light water colour type of pinky/red but beware of adding too much to your icing as it can start to turn an orangey red colour. For sponges I would avoid using this altogether as it tends to turn the sponge a brownish colour.
Sprirulina, an edible seaweed, is used in the blue colouring. Again, I would reserve using this only in icings or fondant and not in a sponge. This dye produces a lovely baby blue coloured icing or fondant, but don’t use too much or your icing might start to taste bitter.
Waitroses’ pink natural food colouring used beetroot to achieve its pink hue, and creates nice bright pink icing, especially considering that it’s natural. You won’t ever get a shocking pink colour out of it, but rather a nice bright baby pink. This food colouring also works well as an edible paint for decoration on fondant or marzipan.
The green icing in Waitrose range also uses Spirulina to colour. When used in icing, this dye produced an light ‘apple green’ colour. As with the blue dye, if you use too much the icing can start to taste bitter so beware of how much you use.
The yellow natural colouring used extracts from turmeric to produce it’s colour. The flavour of this one is quite strong so you really can’t use too much in your icing. As long as you use a small amount you can get a pretty nice off white if your recipe called for it, but otherwise I would’t bother with this one.
PME 100% natural food colourings
As well as some artificial colourings, PME produce a range of 100 natural food colourings covering a broad spectrum of colours. Within this range you will find Ivory, Primose, Lemon Yellow, Daffodil, Orange, Pink, Rose, Dusky Rose, Red, Dusky Brown, Brown, Black, Moss Green, Juniper Green. All of these colourings work well in icings and fondants, and some even do a good job colouring sponge.
For a natural food colouring – the red dye in this range works well to colour the sponge, not a bright blood red, but a definite red, rather than the brownish colour you can often see with natural food colorings. This means the colouring is ok to use in red velvet cakes.
The pink icing in PME’s natural range produces really colourful icing, although you do have to use rather a lot of the stuff to achieve this brightness which can leave the icing with a slightly bitter taste.
The black colouring in this range is really very impressive, it’s hard to find food colouring (artificial and natural) that will do a good job of making your icing black rather than grey. This stuff will turn your icing a sort of charcoal colour – so not quite black, but close enough!
Now obviously this stuff is only any good if you want your icing a reddish colour – but many baker swear by this stuff, and you can achieve some really good results with it. Beetroot powder is used for all sorts of stuff, including make-up!
Beetroot powder will turn your icing a nice light pink colour, but it’s not worth using in your bake, as it will revert to a brownish colour.