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natural food dyes

As a new mom, I’ve been trying to provide the healthiest foods possible for my family that don’t have added chemicals and unnecessary ingredients.  According to the 2015 Nielson Survey, I’m not alone in this journey!  Consumers are going back to the basics with about 4 in 10 global respondents regarding having foods with natural ingredients (43%) and no artificial colors (42%) and flavors (41%) very important.  This is great news, but take a look down just about any food aisle and you’ll quickly realize this task is easier said than done!

smashcakefunWe recently celebrated our son’s first birthday and I wanted to find a cake option that wasn’t loaded with sugar, chemicals and dyes (much to the dismay of my family who kept telling me “just give the boy some real cake!”).  I searched the web high and low for no sugar added “smash" cake recipes and options for natural food dyes.  There are vegetable-based food dyes you can purchase but they’re a bit pricey so I decided to give homemade food dyes a try.

I’d say the end product was a success!!  He LOVED his “smash" cake and I loved knowing that it was good for him.  A win-win for mom and baby!

Natural Food Dye How-To’s

Making homemade natural food dyes was surprisingly easier than I thought.  These 3 simple steps are all you need to get started:


  1. Create colors one at a time. Use fruits, vegetables, spices and other foods to create a colored liquid. Puree food in a blender to liquefy, then strain off any pulp and seeds or use a juicer to extract the juice without any pulp.  You can also purchase pure juice from the store (carrot, pomegranate, cranberry, etc).  See the guide below to creating different colors or check out this video tutorial.
  2. Reduce colored liquids to make a more concentrated, colorful paste. Pour juice into a small saucepan and cook over low heat until it reduces to a thick, vibrantly colored paste. This part is tricky and you have to be patient! I accidentally burned a few batches because it was taking a while and I left it unattended for a little too long. One tip online suggested reducing liquids in a mini-crock pot.
  3. Stir into frostings, dough or batter. Add small amounts of food dyes to your recipe gradually.  A little should go a long way but you’ll need more than you’re used to adding with store bought food colorings. Any extra can be poured into ice cube trays and stored in the freezer.

Natural Food Dyes Guide

Blue is one of the hardest dyes to create.  To make blue food dye, start with a head of red cabbage and boil over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until the liquid is a deep purple (you can stop here if you want purple dye).  Strain liquid and stir in about ½ teaspoon of baking soda.  The purple liquid will magically turn to blue before your eyes- it’s amazing! Check it out for yourself below.

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Tips for Success

When making natural food dyes, there are a few things to remember:

  • Natural dyes tend to create lighter, more pastel hues than store bought varieties. Store bought food dyes are very concentrated so you only need a few drops to create the desired color.  Natural food dyes are not as concentrated so many recipes simply can’t stand up to the amount of liquid you would have to add to achieve the same color.  You might have a hard time getting a true red for say a fire engine cake, but just a few drops of beet juice will give you a gorgeous shade of pink!
  • Concentrate, concentrate, concentrate your colorants!! While I ended up with a gorgeous shade of blue colored liquid, I was never able to achieve a blue frosting for the cake because I wasn’t able to add enough liquid to get it past appearing purple. Be more patient than I was and let your liquids really reduce to get a more vibrantly colored end product!
  • Try vegetable powders for more vibrant color options. If you’re having trouble achieving the hues needed by concentrating colored liquids, try creating vegetable powders.  This will give you the opportunity to create more vivid colors without adding excess liquid.  Check out this tutorial from Nourishing Joy for more details.
  • Strongly colored foods tend to be strongly flavored foods. Since natural food dyes are foods themselves, you have to be careful with flavor profiles.  Keep your end product in mind and pair savory colorants with savory dishes and sweeter colorants with frostings, batters, etc. Use as little dye as possible to not impart unwanted flavors.  This is why it’s important to reduce your colored liquids to a concentrated paste or try vegetable powders.

Homemade Food Coloring,
How to Make Homemade Food Coloring, Food Network


No Sugar Added “Smash” Cake
Cake Recipe From:
Makes 8 Servings


Sweetened naturally by peaches and bananas, this recipe is a good ‘dessert’ for children or adults of any age and is also great served as a breakfast bread.

½ cup sliced peaches (peeled)
1 banana
½ cup milk + 1 Tbsp lemon juice (let sit for 5 minutes)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt

8oz cream cheese, softened
Natural food dye of choice, if desired (we used carrot juice to make it orange)


  1. Puree peaches and banana in a food processor until liquefied.  This should make about ½ cup of fruit puree.
  2. Whisk fruit puree, milk, egg, and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. Slowly pour liquid ingredients into the dry, mixing until dry ingredients are all wet. SmashCakeSteps
  4. Pour batter into greased pan (6 inch round or 3-4 inch mini spring form pans).
  5. Bake at 350⁰F for 20-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out of the center clean.  Remove from oven and let cool completely before frosting. smashcake_cooked
  6. To make the frosting, beat cream cheese until smooth.  Add applesauce and natural food dye color of choice to reach desired consistency and color.  Be sure it doesn’t get too runny!

Nutrition Information per Serving: Calories: 140, Total Fat: 5gm, Saturated Fat: 3gm, Cholesterol: 35mg, Sodium: 330mg, Carbs: 19gm, Fiber: 2gm, Protein: 6gm



I hope you enjoy this fun recipe as much as our little guy did!


Share your tips for natural food dye options!


We’d love to hear from you!





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About Author

Ashley Bailey, MS, RDN, LDN


Ashley is a Nutritionist at SAS Institute in Cary, NC. She is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified Biofeedback Instructor, and has a Certificate of Training in Adult Weight Management. Outside of work, Ashley enjoys spending as much time as possible at the beach, running, cooking and crafting. Follow @abaileyRD on Twitter.


    • Ashley Bailey, MS, RDN, LDN
      Ashley Bailey, MS, RDN, LDN on

      Once the cream cheese is smooth, add the applesauce slowly until you reach the consistency you want for frosting. I don't actually measure when I make it, just eyeball it. Start slow since you can always add more but can't take it back out!

  1. You can use Butterfly Pea flower for the blue colour! It's really easy! As the the tea itself is blue colour <3 Is it hard to get in your region?

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