Natural Food Dyes for Holiday Cookies

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This year I wanted to make fun and cute holiday cookies with my daughters without resorting to the dreaded artificial food dye. I admit that in January I went through the trouble of making my daughter’s 6th birthday cake from scratch with freshly ground whole wheat and local eggs from the farmers’ market, but then I topped it off with artificially colored icing. Even though we made a lot of drastic changes during our 100-day pledge I guess some things are still evolving around here. So this holiday season was my chance to figure out how to make icing that’s colored naturally without breaking the bank.

I did a little research and found that “natural food dyes” do exist, but they are rather expensive at $17 a pack (which includes red, yellow & blue), and the finished product can be really pale. I also found out that if you don’t have a Whole Foods in town these natural dyes (by India Tree) are only sold in a 2-pack at Amazon.com, costing a whopping $35. I asked a few friends if they’d want to split an order, but everyone around here might just think I am teetering on the edge of crazy because they all turned me down. Regardless, I am not spending $35 on food dyes that used to cost me only a buck or two.

So I decided to take matters into my own hands. I went to Trader Joe’s and bought some supplies to experiment with…including pomegranate juice, powder to make pomegranate juice, and candy. Yes – I went out and bought candy, which is something I haven’t done in almost 2 years now, but again my only goal was to make colored icing that wasn’t artificial. And the “natural” Trader Joe’s holiday candy that cost all of $2 ended up being the winning choice. I originally thought the pomegranate juice might work, but it changed the consistency of the icing too much.  We didn’t have that issue with the pomegranate juice powder, but the flavor was honestly just kind of gross. Grinding up pieces of hard candy in my little food chopper though was actually fun, and the flavor worked well with the cookies.

To top off our light red and yellow icing we used a variety of things…

  • Naturally-colored sprinkles that were not sold separately, but as part of a holiday cookie mix at Trader Joe’s
  • Shaved dark chocolate (we used a carrot peeler)
  • All natural fruit leathers chopped into little pieces
  • Raisins
  • Chopped nuts

My girls and I had a blast experimenting, and we didn’t at all feel like we were “cheated” out of any holiday fun! I hope to be able to share a more detailed cookie recipe before the next holiday season, but his was the first time I’d used whole-wheat flour and it still needs some tweaking. In the meantime though I’m so glad we didn’t have to resort to artificial food dyes or spend $35 on a natural alternative. Happy holidays from our family to yours!

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