By Cassie Johnston
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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!
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looove this post and can’t wait to see your dish soap recipe (if it works!)
this is such a great idea! I will have to get over my fear of beets to try it out. (last time I made them my kitchen ended up looking like a crime scene)
Love this! I’m going to have to share it with my SIL since my nephew can’t have all those unnatural dyes. When he was diagnosed with autsim and ADHD a few years ago they changed his diet completely to get rid of those awful red dyes. Poor kid….only candy he can really eat are Resses Cups. (Not that he minds, they are his favorite!)
If I was going to pick one candy to stick with, Reese’s would probably be it. :)
UNREAL candies don’t have food dyes….or other crap in them. They taste a little more like dark chocolate, but might give him some variety…
We have cut all dyes too. Annatto does the same thing. Also Yummy makes suckers, there are chocolate candies, starbursts….so many! You have to be careful. Annetto is used in some of the suckers but you can easily look at their website and find which ones have it.
their are sweets that are made with natural food coloring. look into the English made Smarties for example by Nestle.
and this sort of thing:
I’m so glad this recipe involves eating the beets! I was thinking, “Man, I’m not sure I’d waste beets trying this…OH WAIT, I get to eat them? Sign me up.”
That’s really cool! Can’t wait to use it on Christmas recipes. :)
I looooove this! I can actually tell when my son has had red food coloring by his behavior. At least I could tell when he was younger, I don’t know about now because I’ve been avoiding it in substantial quantities for a while now. I have used beet juice before but I love your method. Gotta try it!
I want to use this to make red frosting for my son’s birthday cake. Any suggestions for quantity? I will be sure to tint it with vanilla first to make sure it isn’t pure white, any other tips?
Hmmm. If you want it red-red? A lot. It actually might be best to start with a chocolate frosting, if that’s possible. This recipe for red velvet cake uses a red cake base and beets to get the bright red. Good luck! http://www.sophistimom.com/red-velvet-cake-all-natural-no-red-dye/
How long does this last? Can I freeze it in small quantities for future use or fridge? What about the stems? Any uses for those?
I don’t know who long it lasts or if you can freeze it, because I used it right away, so if you try it, let me know! The stems and leaves can be used just like any other green—sauteed or in casseroles! Yum!
How do we preserve it? Freeze it? Thanks Cassie.
I’m not sure! I’ve never preserved it before—just made it when I needed it. I would say probably freezing (maybe in an ice cube tray?) would probably work the best.
I actually tried this, made a beautiful frosting for cake, but it tasted like beets!!
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.
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.
We made a Valentine’s Day cake with beautiful pink icing using this technique! Thanks so much!
Would adding one or two orange beets to your red ones give you the Christmas red you want?
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. :)
Are there any natural food dyes on the market?
Sure are! http://amzn.to/1NdB1zk
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
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.
I wanted to make marshmallows or jello with this for my very picky son. You don’t think it will have a taste?
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