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It’s very satisfying to make your own food coloring out of natural ingredients.  It’s also educational for children to see how people used to get color out of fruits and vegetables.  Not everything has to come pre-bottled from a factory!

Since Valentine’s Day is coming soon, today I’ll explain how to make red and pink food coloring naturally.

First make sugar cookies in the shape of hearts. 

Ingredients for Red and Pink Icing for Sugar Cookies

3 – 4 Beets
Confectioner’s Sugar
Water
Vanilla or Almond Extract (if desired)

1.  Peel beets and cut into chunks.  (You can see the dye already coming out of the beets on the plate in the photo below!)

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See the red from the beets already!

2.  Place beets in a small pot covering beets with water but not more than that.  Add a little sugar to the water if desired.  Boil, then lower heat to a simmer.  Cook until soft when pierced with a fork. 

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3.  Remove the beets from the pot, saving the water they cooked in (which should now be red).  You can eat the beets or put aside to have later.

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Water turned red from beets

4. For red food coloring: Mix 1 cup of confectioners sugar with 1 T. + 1 t. of the red beet water.  Add a little vanilla or almond extract for flavoring if desired.  Mix until smooth.  You can add a little more liquid if the icing is too thick.  Then spread on the cookies with a spoon or butter knife.

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5.  For pink food coloring mix 1 cup of confectioners sugar with 1 – 2 t. red beet water and 1 – 2 t. water (to total about 4 teaspoons of liquid).  The more water you add and the less beet water the lighter pink you’ll get.  Once you get the color you want, you can spread the icing on the cookies.

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Note on Using Beets to Tint Red Velvet Cake (Cooking Science):

According to Chef Jeff, red coloring from beets with vinegar was originally used to get the red in Red Velvet Cake.

You need to understand a little of the science behind the red dye in beets. It’s called betanin. Betanin is susceptible to changes in pH. It changes color if its made more acidic or alkaline. When you add an alkaline like baking soda to beet water it turns brown. Baking soda has a mild alkalinity in it that neutralizes the acids in the beet water.

This may be why the site Suite101.com says that beets are not normally used for Red Velvet Cake. They state that the red in betanin will change with high temperatures, and as we just mentioned, with the alkalinity in baking soda (an ingredient in cake). They think it will not maintain its color. Perhaps that’s the role of the vinegar which Chef Jeff mentions. It must maintain the acidity in the cake to keep it red.

Have any of you ever used beets with vinegar to color Red Velvet Cake?

Now I feel like I’m going to have to try making Red Velvet Cake with beets and vinegar to see if it can maintain the red color. Nothing like a good cooking challenge!

Enjoy your Valentine’s Day!

Mama Lisa

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4 Responses to “How to Make Natural Red & Pink Dye for Valentine’s Cookies”

  1. Sandy Says:

    Hi,

    Thank you for posting this wonderful recipe for natural red coloring. Do you know if there is a way to get rid of the beet smell from the beet juice? I wanted to try using the natural color in a drink but can’t figure out how to get rid of the smell.

    Thanks,
    Sandy

  2. Lisa Says:

    I would try adding a little lemon juice – that might do the trick.

  3. J-Clarke Says:

    Hi, I love your recipe, I recently started thinking of making a red dye out of beets for my hair. I usually get chemicals, but I’m trying to stop using chemicals. I was wondering if I can boil the beets and just add the liquid to my hair or if I needed to add something to it.
    I just started a new blog, I still haven’t gotten the hang of it just yet, because of time, but I have a lot of great ideas I would like to implement.

  4. Lisa Says:

    My daughter and her friends temporarily dye their hair with cool-aid and orange drink mix. They boil the water and let their hair (or just the ends) soak for a while and then they don’t wash it until the next day. My daughter’s stayed in for about a week. So beets might work.

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