Navigating the world of natural food coloring can take time and effort. Finding the balance of the desired color and possible added flavor can be tricky. But fear not, with this guide you’ll have the head start you need to start coloring naturally with confidence.
I’ve tested more than just a few different powders for Selefina, and found these resulting offerings to be the favorites. To determine the best uses for each color I put them through a series of tests to see how they behaved in different products: baked in a white sponge cake, stirred into cooked pastry cream, and mixed into American buttercream. When you start baking look at what option will be closest to what you’re making for your best shot at success. For example, mix a natural food coloring powder into a cookie dough using the same method I used to to add it into cake batter.
The following are some tips on how to mix in natural food coloring powders. NOTE: For each project, I used 2 teaspoons of powder for each 1 cup of product. Start there and add more to get more vivid results.
Cake, and other baked goods: To prevent lumps, mix the powder in with your other dry ingredients. Just use a whisk and combine well, then continue with your recipe as usual.
Pastry cream, and other custards: Often in these recipes the directions will ask you to add granulated sugar in at some point. Using a fork, mix the coloring powder in with the sugar first before adding it to your recipe. The sugar granules with break up the powder and allow it to be distributed evenly.
Buttercream and icings: These recipes will either ask you to include sugar or granulated sugar. In either case, again, you can stir the powder into the sugar with a fork before adding it to the recipe.
Head Pastry Chef of boutique bakery in Lake Hopatcong, NJ
Culinary Institute of America Graduate
Maggie's notes have been appended to some general information about each of the natural food coloring powders we carry. Scroll for her verdict on overall use as well as her more specific notes on how each of the powders reacted with her three control confections: buttercream, cake, and pastry cream.
*** We highly recommend testing your color and flavor recipes prior to when they are needed.***
Mango juice powder is a popular choice as a natural coloring agent in food due to its yellow-orange color and fruity flavor. It is often used in baked goods, desserts, and other confections. Our mango juice powder contains maltodextrin, which is a common ingredient in fruit juice powders. Maltodextrin is a white, odorless powder used as a thickener and filler to add bulk to the product. Although mostly tasteless, it can add a hint of sweetness to the blend.
As mango juice powder naturally contains sugar, it can make your dish sweeter, so be aware of this when balancing ingredients. The powder can also alter the pH balance of your dish, potentially impacting the flavor by making certain tastes more prominent or subdued.
Keep in mind that mango juice powder can also make your food a bit softer and moister thanks to the sugar and moisture it contains. This won't drastically change the texture of your dish, but it may add a touch of tenderness. The exact impact will depend on the amount used and how it is incorporated into the recipe.
As an aside: It's also important to distinguish between mango juice powder and mango powder (also known as amchoor powder). Mango juice powder is made from dried mango juice and has a sweeter, fruitier flavor, while mango powder is made from dried, unripe mangoes and has a tangy, sour flavor. Mango juice powder is more suitable for use in baked goods, while mango powder is more commonly used in savory dishes.
Maggie's notes on mango powder:
The powder flavored each product leaving a bright taste that was so delicious.
Hibiscus flower powder can enhance baked goods with its fruity and slightly tart flavor, and its beautiful pink or purple hue. However, its high acid content can impact the pH level of the dish and interfere with important chemical reactions (such as the Maillard reaction) and the activity of yeast or baking powder. This can negatively affect the final product's structure, crumb, and texture. Additionally, if used in large quantities in other confections like buttercream or pastry cream, the acidity in hibiscus powder can cause the included dairy products like cream and milk to coagulate, resulting in a grainy or curdled texture.
Caution is also warranted when considering the tartness of the powder and the affect increased quantities will have on taste. In general to balance the tart flavor consider adding more sugar to the recipe. You can also counteract the sour flavor by adding vanilla extract or complementary ingredients such as spices or citrus zest, but keep in mind that too much of these too can interfere with the Maillard reaction and affect the final product's flavor and texture.
To achieve the best results, use hibiscus flower powder in moderation and balance it with other ingredients.
Maggie's notes on hibiscus powder:
The powder left a really beautiful color that was so exciting to see. Only use this to color products that are really sweet to prevent an unpleasant acidic taste.
The whole butterfly pea flower has a long history of use in Southeast Asia, where it originates. Infusing it into clear or light-colored liquids will turn them a brilliant blue, making it a natural choice for celebratory beverages. But, surprisingly to westerners, it also appears in traditional rice dishes, puddings, and other gelatinous foodstuffs. The color is mesmerizing and has been imported with great enthusiasm, charming us with its surreal vibrancy in drinks. It has become popular on social media. Additionally, it is gaining more popularity in the West as a natural food coloring.
It should be noted that butterfly pea flower powder does have a mild, earthy flavor that some people may not like. However, the flavor is usually mild enough not to overpower the finished dish.
As exciting as the mesmerizing blue color is, one of the main attractions of butterfly pea flower powder is its color-shifting properties. When acidic ingredients like lemon or vinegar are added, it changes from blue to purple. This makes it a fun and interactive ingredient to use in cooking, adding a pop of color to dishes and providing a performance aspect to presentations.
The powdered form of butterfly pea flower adds convenience in use compared to infusions. Infusing the whole flower takes a longer time and may not always result in a consistent color. The powder form allows for quick and easy integration into various dishes and drinks, making it a convenient and accessible ingredient for both home cooks and professional chefs. With its beautiful color, versatility, and ease of use, butterfly pea flower powder is a must-have for anyone looking to add a pop of color and flavor to their culinary creations.
Maggie's notes on butterfly pea flower powder:
I’m still shocked by how perfect this powder is. So vivid, and you don’t have to trade on taste to get it.
Matcha powder is a natural food coloring agent that adds a vibrant green hue to light-colored foods. Like other natural colorings, it affects the flavor profile of a dish with a slightly bitter and earthy taste. However, this taste can be balanced with ingredients such as sugar or spices. The texture of the dish may not change significantly, but the powder can alter the aroma with a slightly grassy and herbal scent.
In buttercream or light-colored cakes, matcha powder adds a vibrant green color and balances the sweetness of sugar with its slightly bitter taste. It can also be used to add a green color and flavor to pastry creams: while its aroma will have a slight grassy scent, the texture of the pastry cream will remain unaffected.
Maggie's notes on matcha powder:
While matcha is the best green color powder out there, it comes with its signature taste. It’s delicious but in a dessert make sure you balance it out with enough sugar.
Using high-fat cacao powder as a food coloring agent brings a rich, chocolatey taste and a smooth, creamy texture to baked goods and confections. However, its intense chocolate flavor may overpower the original taste, so it's best used in recipes that complement chocolate or with a less-is-more approach.
The extra cocoa butter in the powder can cause baked goods to dry out as it weakens the gluten structure and can result in a drier, crumbly texture. Unlike regular butter, which contains milk solids and water, cocoa butter is pure fat and can draw moisture out of the dough or batter. To counteract this, it's important to adjust the liquids in the recipe to maintain the desired texture and consistency.
Maggie's notes on cacao powder (high-fat 20-22%):
If you don’t like chocolate, don’t try it. But I love it. This is the best way to naturally color things brown. And we already know how well cacao works in baked goods. Perfection.
Although cranberry juice powder itself is vibrant pink, the color imparted to foodstuffs may not be as vivid unless a large amount is used. Typically, cranberry juice powder results in a light cotton-candy pink color.
When used in food, cranberry juice powder imparts a slight tartness to the flavor and a fruity aroma. The impact on taste is usually considered minimal and can sometimes enhance the flavor of baked goods and confections.
However, one should be aware of the powder's acidic content, as it can affect the chemistry of the food and impact its texture, rise, and overall appearance. In recipes such as creams or custards, the acid in the cranberry juice powder might cause the proteins to denature and separate, leading to curdling.
Try adding the powder gradually and mix thoroughly to ensure an even distribution of acidity throughout the recipe. Or, if the recipe allows, you can try neutralizing the acidity by adding a base such as baking soda. If curdling does occur, it might be able to be corrected by heating the mixture and whisking continuously until smooth.
Maggie's notes on cranberry powder:
The perfect look for those pretty in pink sweets. Don’t be afraid of adding more powder to get a brighter color, you don’t have to trade much on taste.
Purple sweet potato is known for its deep, vibrant purple color. The pigments responsible for this color are known as anthocyanins. This powder will produce a light lilac and you might perceive a slightly earthy flavor. You can add more powder to increase the color or let the color develop by letting your mixture sit. As with all powders be careful not to add so much powder that texture or taste of your confection is altered unfavorably.
In terms of developing over time, anthocyanins, like other natural food colorings, can be affected by various factors such as pH, light, temperature, and time. Anthocyanin-based colors are generally quite stable over time, but they can fade or change under certain conditions. For example, exposure to heat and light can cause the color to fade, while changes in pH can cause the color to shift (anthocyanins can appear red in acidic conditions and green-blue in alkaline conditions).
In addition, clumping can occur with sweet potato powder due to its starch content. When starch comes in contact with liquid, it can quickly form clumps. Sweet potato powder, like other starch-rich powders, tends to clump up when added to liquids because the starch molecules in the powder absorb moisture and swell, causing the particles to stick together.
Sifting the powder before adding it to the liquid can help break up any clumps or lumps and ensure that the starch is evenly dispersed. Whisking the powder into the sugar first can also help alleviate clumping. Additionally, mixing the powder with a small amount of liquid can help it distribute more easily and prevent clumping.
Maggie's notes on purple sweet potato powder:
It might clump up a bit if you don't mix it with sugar first to disperse the color, but the extra step will be worth it. This is a beautiful powder.
Beetroot powder is made from dehydrated, ground beetroot that can add a vibrant, natural color to confections. It has a subtle, sweet earthy flavor but this will not overwhelm your treats.
Like sweet potato powder, or any other powders derived from starchy foods, it is prone to clumping. There are a couple of ways to help prevent this. You can sift the beetroot powder before use, and keep it stored in a cool, dry place in an airtight container. Or as with other powders, whisking it in with your sugar first can help disperse.
While the betalains in beetroot powder can cause the color to become more muted when exposed to heat during baking, it still adds a unique hue to your goods. However, for raw or minimally heated confections like frostings, icings, or no-bake desserts, beetroot powder provides a stunning, bold color that makes your creations both delicious and visually appealing.
Maggie's notes on beet root powder:
This is perfect for red coloring, but do not bake with it! The color fades to a rusted orange that isn’t so cute.
Here's a quick collection of our natural food coloring powders and some sets that we've created for convenience. You might try our spices and seasonings page as well, since there are other spices that can be used for coloring. For example turmeric, safflower, and saffron will all yield various shades of golden to yellow. Again, it is important to remember that with these natural food coloring powders comes various levels of flavor. You will need to experiment to find a balance between color and flavor that suits your tastes. Keep in mind we sell most of our spices in 'try me' sample sizes for 75¢ each so you don't have to commit to a jar of something exotic you might not use every day.
FOOD52: Food52 always impresses with their depth of information and passion for helping home cooks. This is great article by Erin Jeanne McDowell on making your own natural food dyes. She includes information on the difference between powder vs liquid bases and how to use each.