Saturday, March 16, 2013

Homemade Red Food Coloring

Now, you may be asking yourself why in the world you'd make your own food coloring since it is easily purchased at the grocery store. I would have agreed with you whole heartedly until two days ago when I began looking for recipes for Red Velvet Cake.

Red Velvet cake is a southern favorite that I have never much liked, which is why I'd never made it. However, I'd volunteered to make a birthday cake for my friend, David's, surprise birthday party and Red Velvet was high on his list of a favorites. After reading several recipes, it became clear that I was going to have to use at least an ounce if not two ounces of red food coloring in order to get that signature red. Seeing as I didn't have that much red food coloring, I did what I often do and asked myself if I could just make it and avoid a trip to the grocery store.

The answer: Yes and no. I could make it myself but I'd still have to go to the store. Why, then, you are wondering, did I still make it?

Well, because I read on the good old internet that the stuff used to make commercial red food coloring has been identified as a carcinogen. HOWEVER...after my brother-in-law, who is armed with a chemistry degree, did some research he told me he couldn't find any research showing Red 40 to be carcinogenic. He did direct me to this website that explained where food dyes come from (don't be deterred from the is really quite non-chemist friendly).

But like I told Joshua, I still like making my own because I understand beets and cranberries and red peppers. It is also much more cost effective and it is fun! Over the next several weeks, I plan to make my own yellow, green, and maybe even blue. But this was a good time I won't read the top four articles on Google and base my opinion on them...

Anyway...I made this red food coloring myself using beets before Joshua educated me. You can substitute any red fruit or veggie (like cranberries or raspberries), but I liked the idea of using beets because they are relatively cheap and I love their beautiful color. As a disclaimer, using beets gives you a purply-red, so if you're looking for that bright, bright red, I'd add cranberries or maybe even a red pepper.

Homemade Red Food Coloring
Kelley Gondring

8 cups water
1 pound of beets, washed and stems removed
2 teaspoons white vinegar

Bring water to boil in a large pot. Let cook 8-10 minutes or until beets are tender.

Transfer to cutting board. Gently remove the outer skins. Finely chop and place back into the reserved water. I actually coarsely chopped them and then used my immersion blender to do the rest of the work. You can also use your food processor but be warned that the beets can stain the container. Let the beets sit in the water for at least 4 hours but preferably 6.

Strain out beets and transfer water into a clean pot. Let simmer on medium heat for an hour to further reduce. You can skip this step, but you'll get a deeper red if you don't skip it. Add vinegar.

Transfer to glass mason jars.

Enjoy and think about all of the carcinogens you're avoiding!


  1. My son's birthday is tomorrow and he wants a "fire engine cake"! So I found your blog on red beet coloring. yay! I was wondering what the reason was for adding the vinegar - does it affect the color?

    1. The vinegar acts as a preservative and won't effect either the color or the taste. A fire engine cake sounds like an excellent project; would love to know how it tuns out!

    2. Thank you for the speedy reply Kelley! I made up the coloring last night. The cake is adorable (theoretically) - we saw a Betty Crocker Fire Engine cake how to video on YouTube. But ours will be organic, gluten-free, and naturally colored - of course! - Seattle, WA