Happy Food Dye to You?

By guest blogger Eloise Collison.  Eloise is a freelance writer, organic gardener, and fibre fanatic who lives and writes in Westboro.

Feeding children is a dodgy proposition at the best of times, but at birthday parties and holiday celebrations thoughts of good nutrition seem to fly out the window. My children and I don’t think a birthday is special without cake, but why does it have to be toxic? The bakery cakes from the grocery store are especially frightening; loaded with refined flour and sugar, and covered with colours that just shouldn’t be found on food.

Food dyes are regulated by the FDA, but data from the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, and studies in the U.K. medical journal The Lancet point to problems with testing and regulation. Some dyes have been linked to ADD, and others are known to cause thyroid tumors in rats.

I can opt out of colour on my cake. Chocolate brown is good enough for me. But for my daughter I thought I would try something reckless, and make my own food dye.

We used frozen cherries, blueberries, turmeric and red beet to make our colours, and tested them on sugar cookies. The most surprising result was the beet, which gave a lively fuschia colour. The turmeric was a pale orange colour, and the two berries gave a light pink. The testers enjoyed the results, with one out of the four saying they could taste the turmeric, or what she called “a spicy taste.”

You can use the recipe that follows, or you can add dye to your own favorite icing recipe.

Cream Cheese Icing Coloured with Homemade Food Dye

8oz cream cheesefoodye
4 Tbsp butter
3 ½ cups icing sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp grated beet
¼ c each of blueberries and cherries (you could also try raspberries, blackberries or pomegranate)
¼ tsp turmeric, sifted (if you have stale turmeric it will be milder to taste)

Using a fine sieve, force the juice from the fruits and the grated beet into separate bowls.

Cream the cheese with a fork, blend in butter, and add sugar and salt, mix until smooth. Divide icing into smaller portions, adding juice and spice to colour each portion. Stir thoroughly.  Unused icing should be discarded after 24 hours.


If you would rather look for a ready made alternative India Tree has created a series of natural food dyes that you can order on line. (I still haven’t found a source for them in Ottawa)

Another on-line source for these dyes, and other “better for you” candy is the Natural Candy Store


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