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Dye from Natural Causes

Straining natural blue dye through coffee filter

I heart food (and my belly shows it!). I hate food dye (and my baking shows it!).

Well, I don’t hate food dye – I hate artificial food dye. My distaste for Red 40 and other unnatural food colorings began when our son started having major issues with hyperactivity, attention deficit and unexplainable mood swings. His school was convinced he had A.D.D., needed to see a doctor and should be on medication. We were convinced that he was an energetic BOY with a very creative imagination… but agreed that he did have trouble following directions, often for no explainable reason because he knew what he should be doing and all signs pointed to the fact that he wanted to obey. While I concede that medication is a good choice in some situations, we much prefer to look for natural answers to issues before jumping for pills.

So we started doing some research… it didn’t take long before we discovered the link between artificial food dye/coloring and health problems in children, especially hyperactivity. Attention deficit and extreme mood swings were also in the list of symptoms.

According to www.cspinet.org “the three most widely used dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, are contaminated with known carcinogens [cancer causing substances], says CSPI. Another dye, Red 3, has been acknowledged for years by the Food and Drug Administration to be a carcinogen, yet is still in the food supply.”

We did an experiment – no artificial dye for the little guy for as long as possible and then we’d see what happened. What did we see? Several things! First, his ability to follow directions, pay attention and control himself was markedly improved after we cut artificial dye in his diet. Second, when he did eat artificial dye – even a relatively small amount – we could see a spike in problem behaviors. And lastly, we saw that artificial dyes are (expressly and sometimes covertly) in a significant number of things that simply don’t need coloring! (Marshmallows have blue dye, some ‘fresh’ tomatoes have red dye on them, meat sometimes has red dye to make it look fresh, etc.)

Angry Grocery Shopping

We quickly discovered how difficult it is to feed kids without giving them artificial color. I had recently become a label reader because of my concern and curiosity about what’s in the ‘food’ we eat. Now I do it religiously. Grocery shopping takes longer. It drives home the point for me of how important it is to produce the food my family eats. And to be honest, grocery shopping has evolved into a task that makes me angry. I love capitalism like most people love the Beatles (seriously) but I just can’t fathom how people working for corporations who put these chemical-ridden, processed health hazards with pictures of dinosaurs and princesses onto grocery shelves can sleep at night! It makes me mad that I have to scour the label to make sure I’m not poisoning my family – and that even after reading I can’t be 100% sure I know what’s in there. (Have you ever read the ingredients list for lunch meat? Yeah, I said ‘list’, as in five or six things other than just ‘turkey’.) Grrr…

Happy Frosting

Cupcake with red raspberry dyed frosting

This pink frosting is made using dye from red raspberries.

So there. Every two weeks when I go to the grocery store I get a little hot under the collar. But let’s move on to something a little more sunshiney-puppies-kittens-balloons-and-smiles-ish, shall we? I like to cook and bake so I haven’t minded that whenever Owen is invited to a birthday party, I have to bake some dye-free cupcakes for him to take along. (He doesn’t mind either – he’d rather eat a separate cake than deal with the affects of artificial dye on his behavior!) So far I’ve had a chance to experiment with different homemade cake mixes and frostings. (We especially like this frosting recipe – I substituted almond extract for the vanilla and it was delicious! We’ve had it with and without cocoa.) Once we used the chocolate frosting, otherwise it has been plain old white. Owen doesn’t seem to mind, but I think we would both enjoy a little color.

Owen was invited to a birthday party today, so today I whipped up some butter cream frosting along with natural food dye – red, purple, blue, and orange! Hooray!

Wouldn’t you like to try baking with natural food dyes? Not only are you avoiding chemical health risks, you’re also adding a teeny bit of nutritional value to what would otherwise be a delicious lump of creamy sugar! Scroll down for recipes and my thoughts on how they taste.

How to Store Natural Food Dye

But one quick note before we get to the recipes: Those tiny squeeze bottles of artificial dye sitting among your baking supplies don’t spoil or go bad. {Selah} Natural food dye won’t last a decade like the fake stuff. You’ll need to store it in the fridge in a sealed container (mason jar with a tightly closed lid?). I can’t say for sure how long it will last, but one article I read said it will go bad after two weeks. Signs that the coloring has gone bad are an odd odor or mold spores. If you want to refresh the coloring after one week has gone by, try bringing it to a boil for 30 seconds which would kill any mold spores but will likely deteriorate the color. Consider this your excuse to bake more sweets so you can use it all up in the two week window!

Another idea: Freeze the coloring in ice cube trays for on-demand, small quantities of color at a later time!

Pale purple forsting on cupcake

This pale purple frosting is made using dye from a red cabbage.

Natural Food Dye Recipes and Reviews

When using natural food dyes, substitute the dye for liquids used in your recipe. I’m currently working on developing some concentrated dye that can be used more like conventional dye and that is preserved with ascorbic acid or vodka for long-keeping. I’ll update you when I have those experiments figured out!

Natural Dye Recipe

2 cups chopped fruit or vegetables

1 cup of water (approximate)

* Add chopped fruit/vegetables to small saucepan

* Simmer on medium heat until desired color and consistency is reached

* Once fruit/vegetable is soft, mash with fork or potato masher to expel more color

* Strain mixture through coffee filter or cheesecloth into a glass container

* Clean saucepan; return strained juice to saucepan and boil down to further concentrate color

* Allow dye to cool before using

RED – RASPBERRIES

Taste: There’s definitely a raspberry taste to the frosting when using this dye. I’ve read that beets are the way to go when you want red dye with very minimal taste. However at the time of writing this post I decided to use only things I had on hand, including frozen raspberries. Perhaps I’ll go dig up some beets for a follow-up post.

PURPLE  – RED CABBAGE

Taste: No cabbage taste but there is a cabbage smell to the dye all by itself

BLUE – RED CABBAGE

* Follow same instructions but add small amounts of baking soda to the dye as it cools to obtain the desired color.

Taste: No cabbage taste but there is a cabbage smell to the dye all by itself

ORANGE – CARROTS

Taste: No carrot taste

GREEN – SPINACH

Haven’t had a chance to try this yet!

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