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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41 comments to Natural Food Dyes for Holiday Cookies

  • I never would have thought to try to melt candies down for color. Your cookies look better than mine ever did. Guess I need to keep trying.

  • Amy

    Just FYI the Natural Candy Store website has a multitude of natural dyes and sprinkles at semi-reasonable prices ( $5). Our cookies looked and tasted great this weekend too!

  • Beth

    Thanks for the ideas! My son recently developed a food dye allergy, and I want to make colored holiday icing for cookies too! I did not realize Whole Foods had natural food dyes – I grocery shop there regularly and did not even think to look. Guess I’ll be heading there again quite soon.

  • Kristin

    I bought a natural green food dye from Whole foods made from cabbage and turmeric. The smell was awful and changed the flavor of the frosting I made. How do you avoid changing the taste of the food you are coloring when using natural dyes?

  • DeAnna Barr

    Someone may have already suggested this but I have used strawberries to make pink icing; just blend in the blender and use the juice or make with the pulp as well. I put the extra icing in the refrigerator to use later. I would think that cherries would work for another option. Blueberries would make blue icing. Add blueberries and strawberries together to make purple icing. So just use fruits & vegetables to get the color you are looking for:) Have fun! In our home baked goods don’t last long so I’m not sure if I would leave out on the counter for long, best if refrigerated.

  • So, I’m new to this whole natural food dyes thing, and I want to frost some sugar cookies with my kids this weekend for Easter, but my question is… what kind of frosting are you all using to mix in these natural dyes, or fruits to achieve color? Is there a natural store bought brand I can get at Whole Foods? Or a VERY simple recipe I can make using powdered sugar or something? Thanks!

  • Sarah

    How was the green icing achieved?

  • [...] to handle, knead ball. Knead in food coloring, if desired. If you want to avoid artificial dyes, check out these ideas. Let cool. Cost: ‘free’, assuming you have these ingredients in the pantry [...]

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