There are so many things I love about the holidays, but one of my most favorite parts is that we’re pretty much given carte blanche to color and bedazzle and glitterize all of our food. Cookies are frosted with a thick layer of red and green swirls. Cupcakes are topped with sprinkles. Heck, I’ve even been known to put colorful sugars on my hot chocolate and food coloring in my snow.
This love of all things colorful is in direct competition of a new charge in my life—to strip away as many chemicals as possible. I cleaned up my diet for the most part a few years back but never really got around to stripping away everything yucky (in my diet and other areas of my life). Yup. I’m the girl who spends a small fortune on organic produce, but washes her dishes using Cascade. Something tells me that’s kinda like stopping smoking cigarettes, but still smoking cigars…
So I’m trying to change that (and have an awesome recipe for dishwasher soap coming at you soon).
Anywho, today’s post is a teeny tiny part of that bigger charge to strip away chemicals from my world. I rarely use food colorings, but around the holidays, they are definitely part of my baking supply stash. And the grand-daddy of bad-for-you food colorings? Red. The red food color you get in that little bottle is usually made up of Red 40 and Red 3. Independent research studies have shown that Red 40 (and its nasty counterpart Yellow 5) might cause ADHD, migraines, hives, and asthma in folks with reactions. And Red 3? It’s been recognized as a known carcinogen by the FDA (but is still allowed if levels are under a certain amount). I don’t know about you, but I don’t want any amount of a carcinogen in my holiday treats—especially if I can easily avoid it.
So I started doing some research on natural food colorings. I’ve touched on it a bit before here (with dying Easter eggs), but I really wanted to find some things that are highly concentrated and true color like the chemically ones in the bottle. It turns out, beet juice is the answer. By boiling down beets and concentrating the liquid, the result is a very strong, very bright red-violet color.
You say, “But I didn’t want red-violet! I wanted Christmas red, yo!” and I’m definitely catching what you’re throwing. What I realized (thanks to my color theory classes in college) is that to get a true red, you just have to work with a base that is tinged slightly yellow. Sugar cookie dough works (actually, most cookie dough) as does most butter-based frostings. Using a cream cheese frosting? Try tinting it with a touch of pure vanilla extract or maple syrup first.
Take three large red beets, remove the green and root end and slice into bite-sized chunks. Place in a small saucepan and cover beets water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, reduce heat and simmer until beets are tender and there is only a couple of tablespoons of water remaining. Reserve the water (this is your food coloring) and then peel and eat the beets for lunch.
I actually used my beet food coloring in a terribly failed attempt to make marshmallows (nothing to do with the food coloring–I didn’t boil the sugar in the ‘mallows long enough) and the food coloring made a beautiful, strong, flavorless swirl of deep, dark red with only a few drops. The base of the marshmallow was (obviously) white, so the end result was more pinkish than I would have gotten if I tinted the marshmallow base beforehand.
I cannot wait to make another batch and use it for all of my holiday baking!