Pink frosted cupcakes. Bright green smoothies. Bubbly blue cocktails. Who doesn’t love the lure of vividly-colored foods?
Using colors to enhance the visual appeal of our foods is nothing new, but that’s not to say all of our modern applications have been exactly what you’d call a smooth process. Though natural, plant-based dyes have been used for millennia around the world, it’s synthetic hues that have dominated our modern food industry as an inexpensive means to produce bright, consistent colors. And this pervasive use of artificial additives is certainly not without controversy: from the Food and Drug Administration pulling an orange Halloween candy from the shelves after children became sick in 1950, to the more current acknowledgement that many previously approved color additives have, in the FDA’s words, “serious adverse effects” (and have been linked to hyperactivity in children).
The good news is, many manufacturers are now beginning to lean more on plant-based dyes extracted by fruits and vegetables. Even better, these natural colors we see are actually signs of various antioxidants of plants, thereby giving us a bit of nutritional gain in addition to an enchanting aesthetic! And perhaps best of all, you can easily utilize these hues in your own cooking, using truly beneficial superfoods. So, the next time you’re craving a bit of color, leave the food dyes on the shelf, and create the rainbow with exemplary superfoods instead! Here are a few that we particularly love to use.
There’s a much-talked-about name for purple hues, known as anthocyanins – aka the “purple” antioxidants we see in dark colored foods. Lots of superfoods contain anthocyanins, from black rice to acai berries! For using as a food coloring, some of the best superfood options to really get that purple glow include the juice of blueberries and blackberries, as well as super-high potency maqui berry powder.
True blue is a very rare color in the natural, edible color wheel. Even “blueberries” are actually more of a purple than a blue. Nevertheless, the blue antioxidant phycocyanin does exist, and it’s found in one of the world’s best superfoods: spirulina. For the easiest application, use a blue spirulina, which you can buy online or at specialty stores. The color will blow your mind, and a little goes a very long way!
Especially for dying foods, green is an easy color to create, thanks to the abundant amount of chlorophyll-rich superfoods. Blend in spinach or wheatgrass powder to create warm, light greens without effecting flavor, or use straight liquid chlorophyll for cooler, darker shades.
One of the best superfood ways to make yellow on the planet (a way, I might add, that has been used for thousands of years) is to use healing turmeric powder or juice. Thanks to an abundance of curcumin, a bright yellow compound, turmeric quickly adds a golden color to anything it’s added to, just barely swaying the flavor.
When trying to create orange, it’s all about finding foods with high concentrations of carotenoid antioxidants like lycopene. You can use carrot juice or carrot powder, mangos, or even paprika or tomatoes (depending on the recipe). But perhaps the most versatile and condensed superfood variety is in fact goji berries (which have an extremely high concentration of various carotenoids!). In particular, I like to use goji berry powder, which can be easily whisked into a variety of foods, quickly creating a warm-looking color.
Admittedly, red hues are the hardest to achieve naturally. Superfoods may not produce the same vibrant red that a “#5 dye” can, but they’ll at least create a stunning pink. Using the ground powder of freeze-dried (or juice of fresh) strawberries and raspberries makes for a solid pink dye, and mixing in some beet juice/powder will create a stunning fuschia. Lastly, pitaya (dragonfruit) can create an exuberant pink as well!
While superfood dyes will not fade once they are added in proper conditions, they do have their limits: most are effected by heat as well as acidity (which will diminish or change their color). These natural hues are best used in lightly colored foods that do not need to be heated, and are best suited in mixed dessert recipes such as cake frostings, ice creams, cheesecakes, and smoothie bowls. Take advantage of the beautiful natural rainbow in superfoods … and enjoy their nutritional bonuses!