Homemade Natural Blue Food Coloring

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Natural Blue Food Coloring--from a Surprising Source!

Yes, even us “real foodies” need some colorful fun in the kitchen every once in awhile, right?

Not that making other things like Homemade Almond Joy, Caramel Nut Buttery Popcorn and Bean Fudge aren’t fun, but ….

If you are like me and your kids are like mine, sometimes you look with envy at the colored treats in magazines and think that it would be nice to have a healthy alternative.

What’s Wrong with Artificial Food Colors?

We all know that those artificial food colors are not healthy and are suspected of having links to behavioral and health problems.  We have avoided them in our home completely since our son’s diagnosis with autism, but I wish we had done it sooner.

Did you know that a lot of artificial food colors have aluminum in them?  When you see, “FD & C Yellow Aluminum Lake” on an ingredient label, you can know that you will be eating aluminum. And if the label doesn’t say “aluminum,”  then you might be eating barium or zirconium.  No thank you!

Recently my son had a season finale for his ice hockey league (the Griffins Youth Foundation), and each team member was going to be presented with a cupcake decorated with colored frosting to match his uniform.  Ugh — my son’s team color was his favorite color, blue.  Why couldn’t he have been on the green team?  Then I could have used parsley like I did for my Saint Patrick’s Day Fudge.

Well, I initially told him not to get his hopes up — that there was no way that we were going to be able to make blue frosting naturally, but then I found out how.  And now I am going to share it with you!  You are probably not going to believe what vegetable you are going to use!

 

Need some great ideas for your natural blue food dye?  How about:

  • dying Easter eggs
  • paper mache projects,
  • crafts
  • fun creative food ideas (blue mashed potatoes, anyone?), like –

CUPCAKES WITH HOCKEY UNIFORM NUMBERS ON THEM!

Blue Food Colouring in Frosting

I think they turned out great, and my kids did too!  I’ll be sharing the chocolate/carob cupcake and peppermint icing recipes in the near future.  Don’t you love chocolate and mint together?

One other thing to know about natural food coloring is that some of them are prone to fading.  The blue wasn’t that deep to begin with (we tried to get the first batch deeper, but ended up with a really bad baking soda taste :-(), but it faded even more in the days following.  So if you color frosting for cupcakes, eat ‘em up quickly!   I’m sure that won’t be hard!

(Money Saving TipUse filtered water for cooking the cabbage and then, though it is pretty well boiled, you can still eat the leftover veggies for dinner!  Try topping them with my Moroccan Vinaigrette and Chat Masala.)

Looking for more Natural Food Coloring?

Check out my posts on:

What will YOU use this Natural Blue Food Coloring for?
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  1. This looks like fun! If my little girl was a bit older, we’d be trying this ASAP. But since she’s only 11 months, it might have to wait a tad longer, but it still looks like an awesome kitchen project. And infinitely better than icky storebought food coloring…

    • If you think that she is able to enjoy the color, you could have her add the baking soda once the cabbage water is cooled. My boys really enjoyed the color concept. It was fun for mom too :-)!

  2. I’ve heard that trick before, but never used it so far. But just had to say that the first picture looks awfully nice!

  3. GREAT tip!

  4. Funny. I was just searching THIS WEEK for natural blue food coloring tutorials!! (Just happened upon your post while browsing through the links at Kelly’s.) Your cupcakes sound delish. Never thought of doing chocolate and mint together in a cake.

  5. Cool!

  6. I just started using India Ink dyes, which I get at Whole Foods. Yes, they are super-expensive, but so worth it. I just made my daughter cupcakes for school. I made the prettiest, most natural-looking purple. Reminded me of spring flowers. And it was completely plant-based.

    You do have to keep them refrigerated, and they don’t last for that long (I heard about six months), but that actually encourages me not to be cheap and to really make the colors deep and rich. Great idea with the cabbage, though!

  7. Very cool! There was an article in last month’s Kiwi that gave directions for natural food dye. They used frozed blueberries to make blue dye.

    Visiting here from Finer Things Friday, but I would love if you linked up at my Friday Food Fight, too.

    http://deniseisrundmt.com/2011/04/29/if-i-knew-you-were-coming-idve-baked-a-peep-cake/

  8. Can you possibly tell me the amount of blue liquid and baking soda that you used to get this color? I tried to do this earlier but the blue barely showed up and I am afraid that if I continue to add more my icing would become too runny. I am looking for exactly what you have…thanks

    • Jen, I am so sorry for not getting back to you. I am afraid that your question got lost in a pile of emails. Were you able to work this out? I basically followed the directions that I wrote out in the instructions — putting the cabbage in a pot and adding water until they were just covered. Then I added the baking soda a little at a time. My blue color was quite faint as you can see from the photo. I should add that my frosting was pretty thick. I hope to post the recipe soon.

      Let me know – and again, I am sorry for not getting this to you sooner.

  9. Hello, I was searching for a way to dye a pale almost grey cotton purse blue so that it wouldn’t need to be washed as often. Is there any issue with the cabbage juice dye smelling or fading? Is there a non toxic way to set the color? Seems I’ve heard salt sets colors but the purse has some metal that might corrode. I’m really glad to find this website and intend to bookmark it for other finds and sharing.
    Thank you, Catherine

    • Hi Catherine. Thanks for your kind words.

      I don’t think the cabbage dye will work on fabric. Here is a quote from something I dug up on the web:

      All of those foods—red cabbage, purple grapes and blueberries—are naturally colored with anthocyanins, which make poor dyes on fabric, especially on cotton fabric. If you launder clothing after dyeing with those plants, the color will wash right out.

      As a result, none of them can be regarded as a good textile dye, along the lines of excellent natural dyes such as indigo or cochineal. None of them is a sufficiently good dye to even be mentioned in such authoritative books on natural dyes as Jim Liles’ “Art of Craft of Natural Dyeing” or Jill Goodwin’s “A Dyer’s Manual”. You might call cabbage “best” because it is less subject to phenolic browning, but it’s such a poor dye for fabric that it does not deserve to be called best. A good dye should persist through many launderings, as cochineal and indigo do. If it washes out after one or two launderings, it is only a stain, not a real fabric dye.

      It’s just from a yahoo Q&A so I don’t have a source.

      Hope that isn’t too disappointing for you. Looks like the cabbage is good for food and not fabric. Hope to see you around later, nonetheless!

  10. Hi- I just tried your blue dye this evening and first
    Tried my icing and also tried to dye decorative sugar
    With no success! I am a newer baker, so if you have any
    Suggestions on maybe frosting/ icing as it was made
    Organically on how to hold this color better, I would be so
    Appreciative! This is for Xmas! I am curious how this would
    Do with dyed eggs also! I found this recipe because, I too used
    The IndiaTree and the blue turns my decorative sugar Teal- not
    Very christmassy!!! I definitely had a Duh moment when I tried dyeing the sugar and drenched it instead!! Anyway now I’m just curious
    About what this will work on??!!! Thanks for any input that you can share!

    • Hi Lisa. I might need for you to share some more information with me. It worked with my icing. What went wrong with yours? The only thing that I can think of with the sugar is that the color is perhaps too watery and you could perhaps heat some on the stove on a simmer until some of the liquid evaporated. The colors in the little bottles are a lot more concentrated. That being said, I have not tried to dye sugar ever. I would think that this would for sure work on eggs. You mentioned that you are trying to use this for Christmas – what color are you trying to achieve? I typically think of green and red as being Christmas colors so I could maybe help depending on what color you are trying to get. I only did the icing, but I am sure that eggs would work as well. But getting a really deep true blue is going to be hard. The color was definitely pale as you can see in my photo of the cupcakes.

      I hope that helps!

  11. I’m hoping to use this for Hanukkah cookies. The icing for them is just a beaten egg yolk and water — have you ever used this recipe with that kind of cookie icing? I’m guessing I would probably have to skip the plain water and just mix in the food coloring to keep it darker blue, but will the egg turn it greenish?

    • Lynn, I have never used if for anything except a white icing. What color is your icing – I assume yellow? If so, then I would think it would become green. Could you do the icing with just the egg white perhaps?

      • You know, I’m not sure. It comes out either clear or a bit yellowish since it’s egg yolk, but on the baked cookies it just makes them shiny without the food coloring. It’s like an egg wash on bread, but I don’t bake enough to know whether the egg yolk actually stays yellow…. Any ideas for a glaze I can put on the cookies AFTER they’re baked so I don’t have to worry about whether the egg yolk and/or the heat will turn them green?

        • Hmmm…I know that you can use the egg white to do a glaze. You could also try a 1 cup confectioners’ sugar (You can look at my post on MYO Powdered Sugar Substitute to make a healthier version) and add 2 Tbsp water and 1 T liquid sweetener. The recipe I am looking at calls for that 1 Tbsp to be corn syrup – I am hoping to post a corn syrup sub this coming week. If you plan on making this I can send you the info ahead of time to you! Let me know if this helps! It think you could add the blue food coloring to this to get a glaze. Just eliminate the water :-).

  12. That’s so cool! I would never have thought to try red cabbage. I probably would have experimented with blueberries or something like that. Thanks for sharing.

  13. OK i don’t have and don’t by red cabbage is there any thing else i can use my dad will not by it and my project is due on Monday pl z help me pl z

  14. Have you ever tried the other suggestions over the baking soda–ie, the green tea? Would I put a bag of green tee into the purple water to “steep” or would I be adding regular already-brewed, ready to drink green tea?

    My son’s class is having a Light It Up Blue bake sale, and they’ve asked me to make blue sugar cookies. I’m looking for recipes for homemade dye, because blue is a trigger color for my son’s issues. None of the dyes are great for him, but blue in particular brings out the worst of his symptoms. I want something that will work well in cupcakes(they want the actual cake or cookie, not the icing) to be blue, that we can send out as instructions to the moms participating.

    • Megan, I’m not completely sure what you are asking about the tea, but the reason this works is that the cabbage is a pH indicator. So you need something basic to make the water turn blue. Let me know what you are thinking. I am thinking that you would need to make the color and use that to color the dye, subbing some of the cookie’s liquid w/ the color. Otherwise, there are natural blue dyes on the market. Hope it works!

  15. Im doing a pirate themed Bday party. I found a recipe for blue punch that looks like the ocean.
    However it calls for berry blue koolaid. Any thoughts on using “cabbage water” to color the punch?
    I’m concerned about how it would alter the flavor.

    • It might thin out the color too much, but the water itself didn’t have much flavor. I think the sweetener in the juice would take care of that. But you won’t get a very deep blue but it would be sooo much better for the kids :-).

  16. What a great idea, especially as we are moving to more natural living!

  17. Brilliant! I knew how to make purple dye, but I had no idea it was so easy to make blue.

  18. Laura Flynn says:

    I just did some beautifully naturally colored Easter Eggs, and used the purple (red) cabbage, but instead of baking soda, used vinegar. I don’t think the dye tastes at all like vinegar, so maybe you may want to experiment with that on your future baking? I have some leftover in the fridge that I plan to drink in my protein shakes. :-)

    • I think I will. I think the science behind it in the post is very interesting. Why would the vinegar turn it blue if the cabbage is meant to be a pH indicator and blue is the basic result. I’m confused.

  19. So, so funny! I have used red cabbage to make litmus paper as a science experiment but never thought to use it as a food dye! You are flippin’ brilliant! I am likning to this from my blog FB.

  20. I have a head of red cabbage in the refrigerator for Easter. I love the pop of color it places on a table beside meats, rices and potatoes. We are dying eggs tomorrow. Thanks for a super tip!

  21. I honestly never really thought about food coloring being bad! Thanks so much for enlightening info.

  22. I love learning how to color foods with natural colors – this is very creative. Thanks for sharing with Healthy 2Day Wednesday, and come back Wednesday to see if you were featured!

  23. I do love chocolate and mint together! Oh, and what a great blue you have achieved with the red cabbage in your recipe. Your cupcakes look wonderful!

  24. Wow. Now that I didn’t know.. Thanks for linking up at friday fun party!

  25. I am sharing it on FB and Pinning it! :)

  26. Ok – that’s weird that you get blue colouring from red cabbage!! Great discovery though!!

    Thanks for linking to a Round Tuit!
    Hope you have a fabulous week!
    Jill @ Creating my way to Success
    http://www.jembellish.blogspot.com/

  27. :):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):)

  28. Rebecca says:

    Thought I’d pass on my experience with trying to add green tea to the red cabbage dye – it didn’t work . I was concerned about tasting the baking soda and so opted to try several different green teas including a powdered matcha and green tea concentrate as well as basic green tea and all turned the dye a muddy shade of purple:( Luckily I tried the baking soda and with very little it managed to turn the red cabbage the perfect shade of blue for my frosting and with no noticeable taste! Just go easy on the baking soda and you’ll do fine! Thanks for the recipe

  29. chemfreemom says:

    What was your icing recipe? I tried this with a butter cream recipe of 1 C of butter, 2 1/2 C powdered sugar, 2 tsp. vanilla and up to 4 T milk (although I used my blue food coloring in place of the vanilla and milk, but I had already sweetened the food coloring with honey and put vanilla and a drop or two of peppermint oil to it). The problem is that the icing came out a very pale green, not blue…Kelly

    • It was a botched inside of a healthy mint pattie. Maybe yours changed green b/c of the yellow color of the honey and the butter?

      • chemfreemom says:

        What do you mean a botched inside of a healthy mint pattie? Can you be more specific and do you have an actual recipe? I ask because my son is going to vacation bible school and they are having cake pops with blue icing and I don’t want him to feel left out, even if it is a lighter blue…thanks, Kelly

        • I tried
          ½ cup coconut oil
          ¼ cup sweetener (I think I used xylitol but I’m not sure–sorry!)
          ½ teaspoon peppermint extract

          I hope it works!!

  30. chemfreemom says:

    Wouldn’t this be too liquid? You don’t really have anything to make it a little stiff like icing, except the 1/4 Xylitol, which I assume is in powder form…Kelly

    • The coconut oil is solid at temps under 74 or so. In the summer this will be an issue – you could use a more solid fat like cocoa butter if you like. This is one of the challenges of baking with whole foods. I would for sure powder the xylitol. Were you thinking that the coconut oil was liquid?

      The other fat that would work is palm shortening – I think that would work well also.

  31. chemfreemom says:

    Yes, I was thinking the coconut oil is liquid, because right now, here anyway, mine is. I’ll see if my health food store has some affordable cocoa butter or palm shortening. I just called about the Xylitol, though, and they said it’s not organic, and since it’s made from corn cobs, it’s probably GM. I’ll have to check into it. Freaking out over this icing! I need it for Monday, and if I had nothing else to do, that would be plenty of time. Thanks Adrienne. If you or anyone else has any other tips that might be helpful, I’d appreciate it! Kelly

  32. chemfreemom says:

    Well, I don’t like the fact that it can have a laxative effect and Dr. Mercola, on his website, says it’s because while it’s called a sugar alcohol, it’s not either, and that it passes through your body like olestra. He doesn’t recommend it. I prefer things that you can find in your grandmother’s kitchen. I’m still trying with the blue icing…we’ll see how it turns out. I’ll let you know. Kelly

    • I’d be happy to read what he says. I personally find more digestive upset w/ xylitol I think…..what do you mean “it’s not either”. Not a sugar alcohol and what is the other thing it is not?” I guess you need to make the best decision you can regarding sweeteners. Personally I can’t use sugar and I think w/ all the diabetes going around and what I’ve learned from different practitioners, sugar intake is one of the biggest problems. So I’m opting for things that don’t affect blood glucose levels, or feed candida.

      I like Mercola, but sometimes his info is a little over the top. But I’d love to see what you are referring to.

  33. chemfreemom says:

    http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/05/26/what-is-erythritol-doing-in-vitamin-water.aspx

    I added the part about Olestra, because that also passes right through you and can cause stomachaches and diarrhea….

    • I actually don’t see the logic in his arguments, but I don’t mean to criticize you. This is the kind of dialogue I want to have on my site….I don’t see Mercola selling something in this article, but in my understanding, all sugar alcohols are the same in a lot of ways and I don’t see the differentiation in his article. From what I have read and from personal experience, things like maltitol and sorbitol are much more difficult on the digestive system. But xylitol and erythritol are much easier. I think that Olestra is an entirely different thing. That being said, these should be used in moderation. I have heard if you start slow w/ xylitol and add it little by little you can tolerate it better. I hope that helps. Let me know if you read it differently.

  34. chemfreemom says:

    Hi Adrienne, No offense taken. I was actually hoping I didn’t sound like I was criticizing what YOU choose to eat ! Everyone seems to have a different idea about what’s healthy and what’s not. I’ve met people who swear that you should not eat soy, not eat gluten, not eat meat, not eat dairy, etc. and they all say “our body isn’t meant to handle that.” Here, we don’t eliminate any one food, but we do try to eliminate chemicals or things that wouldn’t have been found in our grandmother’s kitchen, (within reason, I mean grandma didn’t have agave). I don’t worry much about what other people eat or don’t eat, and I just judge what we’re going to eat as I along and do the best I can. I used to obsess about it a lot more, but it’s SO much work to avoid chemicals today totally, and I read an article about the stress being as bad for you as the actual chemicals. I still try to avoid them, but I’m a lot less uptight about it… I really like this site and when I have more time, I can’t wait to check out a lot of the recipes you posted! Kelly

    • Hi Kelly. I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t offending you. No worries. I just read Mercola’s article and it seemed like he was choosing to focus on erythritol but was stating the sugar alcohols as a group aren’t sugar or alcohol. He just was focusing on the Vitamin Water.

      And the stress is awful. I’ve been particularly stressed this past week and it is not good. Thanks for the reminder!!!

  35. Hi…Can I use this technique to dye noodle? my younger sister has always wanted me to make blue noodle for her. Thanks :)

  36. can this be used to dte frabic

  37. Wow that dyed blue effect sure looks so amazing! I really would want to take it to the next level quite as you did. Keep them coming and more power!

  38. I’m confused about how you add that much water to your frosting without making it runny. Do you boil it down more after the cabbage simmers to concentrate it before the alkaline trick? I really want to do this, but I can’t help feeling like I’m not understanding something. Pardon my tired mama brain. :) Love your site!

    Also, can you store this or will it fade even if the dye hasn’t been added to a food yet?

    • I just added a small amount of the colored water. I think boiling it down is a great idea. I don’t know if you can store it, but I would think so since the frosting didn’t change color :).

  39. We dyed our eggs and the colors are amazing. Beet kvass made purple, red cabbage made blue, turmeric made yellow, yellow onions made orange. Blueberries made a a dark navy and red onion a rust.

  40. You can also get blue coloring from the water you soak dried black beans in, AND it can be used to dye fabric.

  41. I am beginning to purge chemicals and toxins from foods and products, so I was very pleased to find your website– Thank you! I love the idea of using red cabbage or black beans for blue dye, but I wondered if you had tried eggplant? Since the color is deeper, I thought it might make a brighter blue…

    • Welcome!!! I haven’t tried it but someone just left the tip about the black beans. I am going to have to try it! They sure to make a good run at staining my counter :).

  42. Hello Adrienne, we tried this experiment because I was doing a Science Fair Project about using natural coloring instead of food coloring. We figured out how to do red, orange, yellow, and purple. We thought it must be impossible to do blue or green, even as we put our minds together. Then I stumbled across this website, and thought we finally had hope. As it turns out, I was wrong. We were using yogurt as our way of testing the colors on, and we had no idea that yogurt was acidic! Therefore, we excitedly followed your directions, and this is what we saw. Without the yogurt, the mixture was blue. Then, when we added yogurt, the mixture became purple. We tried it with several different yogurts, which all failed, until I researched it, and found out that yogurt was half acidic, and half alkaline. We would not have minded, hadn’t we already made purple with blueberries. Thoroughly disappointed, I hoped to find a different way of creating blue. Would you happen to have a way for us to create blue without the yogurt turning purple? Please respond quickly, my time for the Science Fair is almost up. Although, it would be nice to hear a response from you, the ultimate reason I posted this, was so that others wouldn’t make the same mistake we did, and wouldn’t have their hopes crushed like we did. Despite all of the trouble, thank you Adrienne. :)

    • Crazy. Sorry about that. Black beans? Corn flowers?

      • Syeda Fatima says:

        Interesting. Yogurt is acidic because of the lactic acid it contains. To neutralize it you would have to add an alkaline substance to it first, then try the natural blue coloring. Wish I remembered more of the chemistry i studied years ago. Does it have to be yogurt? Could you use milk?
        You could test the alkalinity of your yogurt with litmus paper before adding the color. Not sure what you could add to it though-some vegetable juice like cucumbers? it would have to be colorless by itself. You could try researching the alkalinity of various vegetable juices and then choose one with the least color and highest alkalinity. Hope this helps!

  43. Thank you both, I will try both of those suggestions, and let you know what we find. If it doesn’t work then that’s alright, since it would be more inspiring for others to learn that they can’t color their yogurt blue! It is something most people wouldn’t know about. “Yogurt half acidic?!!!!” they would say. Oh, and Syeda, I will use those facts you gave me to put into my conclusions paragraph. And Adrienne, we will use your other recipes in the future. :)

  44. Foodpyramid.com says:

    Read the trick before but never used it.
    You could dye easter egss with red onions, but I guess it would not bring out the blue :-)

  45. Hi, I love the idea of natural food coloring. Your recipe sounds great, thanks for sharing!
    But I’m a bit worried it might taste a lot like cabbage, with potatoes I can imagine it’s delish. But in a frosting? do you think that can work?
    thank you so much again!

  46. Oh my gosh thank you so much! How did you firgure it out?

  47. Elizabeth says:

    I tried the blue today using purple carrots and it worked perfectly. Chopped up the carrots and boiled them up, drained off the liquid and let it cool, then added some baking soda and voila! A dark blue liquid resulted. Added this to some icing sugar and it made a dark slate-like blue-grey, which dried to a definite blue. I am so pleased with the result, and so pleased I found out how to make my own blue colouring, as I’ve always been disappointed with the natural blue colours you buy from the supermarket here in Australia. They’ve always turned out more of a washed-out grey colour than blue. But this is brilliant! I’m so happy! My son is turning 10 next week and he’s having a ‘Despicable Me’ minions cake (actually multiple cupcake minions) so I needed a good solid blue for them, and this will be perfect!

  48. Been looking for this all day. Thanks for the recipe :)

  49. I was thinking of using this as a substitute for gel coloring in hard candy (a la Breaking Bad fake meth). Once the candy is cooked and then allowed to cool and set, do you think the color would fade very quickly? I was hoping to make the candy about a week in advance and it would be stored in a container at room temperature.

  50. I was curious to see if blueberries would have the same chemical reaction from baking soda, so while I was making blueberry puree for pancakes tonight I gave it a shot. The liquid was indeed purple to begin with, even more obvious when put in a small white dish. I added just a bare hint of baking soda and stirred, and it turned a lovely blue color. So for those wondering if they can use blueberries, the answer is yes.

  51. What a nifty idea? I wonder if you could make tie-die T-shirts with it.

  52. Mary Ann McMullen says:

    We have a wonderful blue flowering creeper called Clitorea Ternatea Linn. If you squash the flowers in a little warm water it releases a very good, edible, blue dye that the Malaysians use to colour some of their local sweets. If you can find these seeds, and have a warm place for it to grow, it will grow quite easily – just like a pea creeper really.

  53. Azura Minshif says:

    Hi!! thank you for sharing this great recipe!
    I would like to know whether this can be used as a natural dye for hair as well.
    If not,do you happen to know any other natural blue hair dyes that can be made at home?
    Thank you :D x

  54. I am hopefully making some blue meringue cookies for a baby shower, and I am going to try this even though I need to heat the meringue albeit on a low temperature. Am I doomed or could this work? Would using something other than baking soda like the green tea be a better idea for this application?

    • I am not sure but I am reading in several places that natural dyes are heat sensitive. That being said, low temps (like those used for meringues) should be better so I would try a small batch and see – sounds like fun!

  55. I was wondering why you can’t heat the blue dye? I’m looking for a way to dye cake blue to make a July 4th flag cake and this seems perfect. Will it not dye at all? Will it go back to being purple?

    • The color will change if you heat it. I am not sure how much but I have read this in several places that not only this mixture but also many natural colors will change if heated. Maybe make one cupcake and see or do the frosting instead?

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