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.

I don’t often use food colorings, but around the holidays, they are definitely part of my baking supply stash. And the grand-daddy of food colorings? Red. 

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 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 with 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!

Do you use natural food colorings? What’s your favorite that you use?

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  1. hi, i’m planning to make red velvet cake using red colouring from beetroot, and been looking from your recipe, and interesting to try it.
    But i got one question, does the cake taste will change if i’m using the beetroot liquid? I was worried that i will leave beetroot taste to my cake.

    1. It will definitely add a bit of an earthy flavor, so if you’re 100% beet-averse, I’d recommend seeking out other sources of natural red food coloring

  2. I wanted to make marshmallows or jello with this for my very picky son. You don’t think it will have a taste?

  3. If the spirit moves you to bake after cooking your beets, you can use the beet flesh to make this (FABULOUS!!!) red velvet cake:

    I use about 4 Tbsp of cocoa (regular cocoa works in place of the Dutch processed type, as well) because I like mine with a little stronger chocolate flavor. I also don’t measure my beets very carefully but usually use 3 small to medium ones.

  4. Hi.. can I use d juice in whipped cream for frosting a cake.. to give a beautiful red color… n if so do I need to add any flavor

  5. Hi, Cassie!

    Thanks for this. It’s very helpful.

    How long will this keep? Should it be kept at room temp or refrigerated?

    Thanks! Hope to hear from you. 🙂

  6. If you need a yellow base to get a true red, I wonder if you could throw a couple golden beets in the pot with the red beets? I haven’t tried it because my house full of girls loves pink! I’m off to make cupcakes, and some pink scrambled eggs and beets for breakfast! Thanks for the tutorial.

  7. Hey, I tried out your recipe once as it is and another time with lemon juice. I used it with white cake.
    without lemon juice it turned rubbery. And with it, the cake was yellow at the bottom and baby pink at its top.
    And thanks a lot for the idea.