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sugar cookies and homemade natural food coloring

Here is this years version of naturally colored Christmas cookies. All of the colors on these cookies are made from fruit and vegetable juices. The colors are as follows.
orange = carrot
red/magenta = beet
light pink = cranberry
yellow = pineapple
green = basil
purple = pomegranate/blueberry
dark purple = grape
blue = red cabbage

Last year I wrote an in-depth post on the process and you can read that here. In short the icing is a royal icing recipe that uses powdered sugar, meringue powder and water (recipe here). Instead of using water I use concentrated fruit and vegetable juices.  I concentrate them by simply boiling them down, you can skip that step but the color of your icing will not be as vibrant.  Typically I just buy a single container of juice, the exception are the beet, cranberry, basil, and cabbage. For the beet I used the same steam bake method that used did last year. You simple bake the beets with water and the use the left over water as your juice. Then you have the beets to use in salad or soup (we like beets). The cranberries I did a little differently, instead of pureeing them I just strained them out of the juice after boiling them and just reduced the juice. Instead of using spinach for the green I used basil instead and I really like the resulting flavor. The big difference this year is that we now own a vitamix so I was able to puree the fresh basil with just a little bit of water with out cooking it. The vitamix obliterates the basil and left me with a very very fine puree. I passed that though a sieve and just used the uncooked juice combined with a little bit of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to preserve the color. Last year I used 3 capsules and this year I only used one and it didn’t alter the flavor at all.  The blue is the most complex color to make. It is made from cabbage. Cabbage contains anthocyanins so it is very PH sensitive. If you shred some cabbage add water and boil it down you should get a purple liquid depending on the ph of the soil that the cabbage was grown in and the ph of your water. To get blue juice from cabbage you simply need to make the water more alkaline. You can do this by adding baking soda to the water but you only need about 1 tsp per 4 quarts of water. If you make the water too alkaline the cabbage water will actually turn green/brown as you boil it down. For the cabbage I just shredded a head of cabbage, put it in a giant stock pot, covered that with water and added 1 tsp baking soda. I then allowed the cabbage to boil in that until all of the color had gone out of the cabbage. You then strain out the cabbage and reduce the remaining liquid.  And that’s the process,  it’s actually pretty simple.

1. Cabbage juice boiling down 2. cranberries in juice before being strained out. 3. Beets after being steam baked. 4. left over reduced beet juice  in ice cube trays (being frozen for future use). 5. beet icing 6. beet icing being put into icing bottle.

Royal icing is very versatile and you can make it as thick or thin as you like depending on if you are piping or poring it. The linked recipe results in very thick icing which is great if you want to pipe flowers but for decorating cookies with kids I would definitely error on the side of much much more runny icing (simply add more liquid). It will flow faster and be easier for kids to work with, also the icing gets thicker after a few hours of even just sitting in a container so you will want to make it thinner than you think you will need it – it will all dry hard and shiny in the end.  I put all of the icing into ketchup style squeeze bottles and then all you need is some cookies, then let the kids have at it.

Making cookies

Then decorate with friends 🙂


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  1. Kathy Carr

    Thanks for sharing this Emily! My daughter needs everything dye-free so this is fascinating. My sister also bought me some India Tree Natural Decorating Colors created with vegetable colorants. Made things much easier for me! Are your gum drops dye-free too? They look yummy.

  2. Erika McCann

    Thanks for hosting this Emily! You are amazing!

  3. Those cookies look fantastic! What a fun activity for the children and I bet fun to photograph as well!

  4. Thank you sooo much Emily! I will definitely try using your tips to create natural colours for my sugar cookies. Hopefully they’ll turn out as vibrant as yours. Your cookies and photographs are amazing!

  5. Geraldine Pugh

    Could you give a little more information on the quantities of the raw ingredients you used? Did you use a whole large carton of juice for the ones from juices? BTW, I think the finished result is AMAZING.

    • admin

      no it’s only like 6 table spoons of juice total for making the full icing recipe. So maybe 1/2 cup of juice boiled down to 1/4 cup then I measure it into the icing one TBL at a time until the icing is the correct consistency.

  6. Alexis Masker

    How do you make black dye?
    How do you make white dye?

    • admin

      I have no idea how you would make black dye – I’m not sure that would be possible. And white dye? I would just used uncolored royal icing.

  7. Rachel Hubbard (formerly Wilcox)

    Hi Emily,
    I was talking to Ashley yesterday about how food coloring has really negative effects on children, especially red, and she told me you had done several postings in your blog about making your own dyes. She emailed me the link and I was so impressed with your cookies. You’ve always been so smart and creative and it’s fun to see you apply it to mommyhood. I wish we lived in the same town so that I could bring my baby to one of your awesome child gatherings. Good to see you doing so well. 🙂


    • admin

      Thanks Rachel!
      I wish you were on facebook so I could see more photos of your cute little man! He sure is adorable and it looks like you guys are loving Alaska living.

  8. Molly

    where do you get “asorbic acid capsules”??

One Trackback

  1. By Cookie Decorating « Audrey and Jack December 23, 2010 at 5:24 pm