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. 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.

  1. 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?

    1. 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!

  2. 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?

  3. 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!

  4. 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.”

  5. 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!)

    1. 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…

    2. 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.

  6. 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)