Dye-Free Cake Decorating

Star Wars Angry Birds birthday cake with naturally dyed frosting.

For our family, the most challenging times to eat dye-free are holidays and birthdays.  We’ve been conditioned to think brighter is better.  More colors = more fun.  I think that’s the main reason people think our kids are missing out on “the fun of childhood” when we turn down artificially colored things.

But here’s one of the great things about kids – if it’s sweet, they think it’s a treat.  🙂

I LOOOOOOVE birthdays.  And holidays.  And basically any occasion for which you could throw a party and celebrate something with loved ones.  Decorating, baking, organizing, friends, family.  All the things I love!  Naturally, I had to figure out a way to continue to incorporate some colors into our celebratory foods.  Especially the kids’ birthday cakes.

I want to share with you my tried and true natural food dyes for frosting, fondant, and batter.  They’ll work on any of them. Keep in mind the colors will not be as bright as artificial colors, but I’ve never heard a complaint about the shade of these natural dyes.

This is the basic vanilla buttercream frosting recipe that I always use.  It’s quick, easy, and you can even make flavor variations like orange, almond, and cinnamon if that’s how you like to roll.

If you haven’t yet tried making marshmallow fondant, I highly recommend it.  It’s really not that hard.  Stacy, my sweet friend and owner of The Welch Cupcakery, has a great Marshmallow Fondant Tutorial.  She graciously walked me through the process before she had the tutorial. Check out her blog, and learn from the master.  She has tons of great tips on cake making.  🙂

Marshmallow fondants colored with raspberries, carrots, turmeric, and chocolate.

Prepared marshmallow fondants chilling in the fridge.  I love things you can do ahead of time!

Used the fondant to make Star Wars Angry Birds cupcake toppers for my son's birthday party.  Not too shabby for winging it.  :)

Used the fondant to make Star Wars Angry Birds cupcake toppers for my son’s birthday party. (Please don’t judge my artistic skills too harshly. The kids thought they were cool…)

List of Natural Food Dyes

RED/PINK – Raspberries or Beets.  (I think beets can leave a bit of an odd aftertaste, but some people don’t notice it.  Probably depends on how much you’re using, but I prefer raspberries.  You won’t get a deep red using these natural colorants, but you’ll get a pinkish red if you use a lot.  Use a little and you’ll get a nice light pink color – perfect for princess cakes!)

How to: Raspberries – Put a handful of fresh or thawed raspberries in some cheesecloth and squeeze the juice out into a bowl.  If you don’t have cheese cloth, you can squish your berries up in a bowl and stir in a little hot water, or heat the berries in some water in a saucepan on the stove.  Try to filter out any chunks of berry before adding it to frosting or fondant.  Beets – Same as raspberries.

ORANGE – Carrot Juice.  (Usually found with all the other health juices, like Naked Juice, Bolthouse Farms, etc.  Since it only comes in larger bottles, and I don’t care to drink it straight, I usually freeze what’s left in ice cube trays and store it for next time.)

How to: Pour it straight into your frosting/fondant/batter a little at a time until you reach the desired color.  Too much juice may make buttercream frosting a little chunky.

YELLOW – Turmeric.  (Found with the spices.)

How to: Sprinkle a little turmeric directly into your frosting/fondant/batter.  A little goes a long ways.  Too much will give it a strange aftertaste, so err on the “light” side.

GREEN – Avocado, Matcha Tea Powder, or Green Health Juice.  (Matcha can be expensive and vary in color. Yours doesn’t have to be the most expensive, but just make sure you’re not buying a brown one.  Or, obviously, your food won’t turn green.  Personally, I dug the avocado frosting I made, but my husband wasn’t a huge fan.  My favorite thing to use is Green Juice, like Naked Juice’s Green Machine.)

How to: Avocado – Smash it up until it’s a very smooth consistency, then add it a little at a time to whatever you’re coloring. I used about half an avocado to color a batch of buttercream frosting that covered about two dozen cupcakes.  Matcha – Add the powder directly into your frosting/fondant/batter.  It tasted a little like tea, but nobody seemed to mind it.  Green Juice – Pour it straight into frosting/fondant/batter.  Too much juice may make buttercream frosting a little chunky.

BLUERed Cabbage.

How to: Boil sliced up red cabbage leaves in some water for about 15 minutes.  Strain out the leaves, then let it boil down (reduce) until it is a syrupy consistency.  It will be purple, and you can use it as is for purple dye.  To make it blue add in tiny pinches of baking soda until it turns blue.  I’ve heard if you put in too much baking soda it’ll turn green, but I haven’t tried this myself (plus too much baking soda seems like it might taste weird).  You don’t need much of this syrup to make a good blue.  The rest can be frozen in ice cube trays and used another time.

PURPLE – Blueberries or Red Cabbage.

How to: Blueberries – Same as raspberries/beets under RED. Red Cabbage – See approach used in BLUE.

BROWN – Chocolate Powder.

How to: Stir chocolate powder into your frosting/fondant/batter a little at a time until you reach your desired shade of brown.  Don’t be afraid to go dark….there’s no such thing as too much chocolate.  😉

WHITE – Add nothing.  Buttercream frosting is off-white, and marshmallow fondant is bright white.

BLACK AND GRAY – Activated Charcoal Powder. (Sounds gross, but doesn’t really taste like anything.  And it is totally safe to eat.)

How to: Break open a capsule of Activated Charcoal and pour it into your frosting/fondant/batter a little at a time until you get your desired shade.

 

India Tree makes some great dye-free sprinkles.

India Tree makes some great dye-free sprinkles.

If you are looking for an easy way to add color, or maybe just a little extra flair, to your cakes you should try these dye-free sprinkles from India Tree.  We’ve had ours for two years now and still have about half a jar of each left. They seem kind of pricy at first, but they’ll last you a long time.  Some dye-free luxuries are worth it.  We use them on cupcakes, cakes, ice cream, and even our homemade yogurt.  Sprinklesssssss!

Have fun playing with your natural food colors!

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Safe Fast Food: Dye-Free Dining at Starbucks

As a former locally-owned coffee shop manager and barista, I use to be a Starbucks hater.  Until I had kids and they were the only coffee place on my side of town with a drive thru.  Desperate times…  😉

I’m thankful I finally gave them a try, because Starbucks actually has one of the most dye-free menus of all the fast food restaurants.  Plus, there are apparently more Starbucks than McDonald’s in America now – so you should be able to find a good dye-free option on just about any outing.  Woooo!

I love what they have to offer, but for some reason Starbucks has made it extra difficult to look up food ingredient information on their website.  They also don’t list any drink ingredients.  I even contacted the company asking for a list, but they claimed that they did not have a more concise listing than what was on the website.  *sigh*  So I spent quite a bit of time digging through their online menu and searching the internet to determine safe foods for our list.  Frustrating…but totally worth it!  So many yummy choices!

Here are Starbucks’ dye-free foods:

Bakery Foods
Banana Nut Bread
Berry Croissant Blossom
Blueberry Scone
Blueberry Yogurt Muffin with Honey
Caramel Pecan Sticky Bun
Carrot Cake Muffin with Pecans
Cheese Danish
Cheesecake Brownie
Chocolate Cake Pop* (BHT)
Chocolate Chip Cookie
Chocolate Croissant
Classic Coffee Cake
Cranberry Orange Scone
Croissant
Devil’s Food Doughnut
Everything with Cheese Bagel
Evolution Harvest Bars (all kinds listed online were dye-free)
Flourless Chewy Chocolate Cookie
Gluten-Free Marshmallow Dream Bar
Greek Honey Parfait
Greek Yogurt Raspberry Lemon Parfait
Ham & Cheese Savory Square
Iced Lemon Pound Cake
Michigan Cherry Oat Bar
Morning Bun
Multigrain Bagel
Oatmeal Cookie
Petite Vanilla Bean Scone
Plain Bagel
Pumpkin Bread
Reduced-Fat Berry Coffee Cake with Lemon Crumble
Salted Caramel Cake Pop* (BHT)
Sausage Croissant Roll
Seasonal Harvest Fruit Blend
Strawberry Blueberry Parfait
Tomato & Cheese Savory Square
Wheat Spinach Savory Square

 

Breakfast Foods
Classic Whole-Grain Oatmeal
Hearty Blueberry Oatmeal
Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon Breakfast Sandwich
Slow-Roasted Ham & Swiss Breakfast Sandwich
Spinach & Feta Breakfast Wrap

 

Lunch & Dinner Foods
Chicken & BLT Salad Sandwich
Chicken & Hummus Bistro Box
Chicken Santa Fe Panini
Ham & Swiss Panini
Hearty Veggie & Brown Rice Salad Bowl
Protein Bistro Box
Roasted Tomato & Mozzarella Panini
Turkey & Havarti Sandwich
Turkey Pesto Panini
Turkey Rustico Panini
Zesty Chicken & Black Bean Salad Bowl

 

As I said earlier, Starbucks doesn’t list their drinks’ ingredient information.  Here is their legal disclaimer about it: “Allergen information is currently unavailable online for our beverage selections.  If you have an allergen concern, please feel free to ask our baristas to check the ingredient labels or call 1-800-235-2883 for more information.  Please note: we cannot guarantee that any of our beverages are allergen free because we use shared equipment and handle allergens throughout the store.”

I was still able to scour the internet and figure out the ingredients for the majority of their drinks.  But it’s always best to double check.  In my experience, Starbucks’ baristas are very understanding and accommodating of my kids’ “food dye allergy”.  Don’t be afraid to ask about what’s in your drink! 🙂

Bottled Drinks
Starbucks Discoveries – Caramel Macchiato, Caffe Mocha, and Vanilla Latte
Starbucks Doubleshot Espresso
Starbucks Frappuccino – Caramel, Coffee, Mocha, and Vanilla
Starbucks Frappuccino Limited Editions – Mint Mocha
Starbucks Iced Coffee – Coffee + Milk, and Vanilla
Starbucks Refreshers Energy Drinks (Dye-Free, but these have Questionable ingredients – I wouldn’t buy them)
Tazo Teas – all are dye-free

 

Hot Beverages
Brewed Coffees
Caffe Americano (espresso + water)
Caffe Latte (espresso + milk)
Caffe Mocha (espresso + milk + chocolate sauce)
Cappuccino (espresso + milk)
Espresso Macchiato (espresso + steamed milk foam)
Espresso Shot (just espresso)
Steamed Apple Juice
Steamer (steamed milk, usually with a syrup)
Tazo Brewed Teas – all kinds are dye-free
Tazo Tea Latte – Awake, Chai, Chocolate Chai, and Green Tea
Teavana Brewed Teas – all kinds are dye-free
Teavana Tea Latte – Oprah Chai
White Chocolate Mocha (espresso + milk + white chocolate sauce)
White Hot Chocolate

 

Cold Drinks
Apple Juice
Fizzio Handcrafted Sodas – Golden Ginger Ale, and Lemon Ale
Frappuccino – Coffee, Double Chocolaty Chip, Espresso, Hazlenut, Java Chip, Tazo Chai, Tazo Green Tea, White Chocolate Creme, White Chocolate Mocha
Iced Caffe Americano
Iced Caffe Latte
Iced Caffe Mocha
Iced Coffee
Iced Tazo Teas – all are dye-free
Iced Tazo Tea Lattes – Awake, Chai, Chocolate Chai, and Green Tea
Iced Teavana Lattes – all are dye-free
Iced White Chocolate Mocha
Milk
Shaken Teavana Lemonades – all are dye-free
Smoothies – seem OK, but couldn’t find ingredient listings for these anywhere online (I would avoid them!)

 

For almost any drink at coffee shops you have the option to add in flavors.  Here’s a list of all the syrups that Starbucks allegedly uses that are dye-free.  If you add these, please make sure you have your barista double check the brand and ingredients.  Should be quick and easy for them to figure out. **Please note: all syrups and sauces contain the preservative potassium sorbate, which has been linked to some skin allergic reactions.**

Safe Syrups/Powders
Fontana Almond Syrup
Fontana Bittersweet Chocolate Mocha Sauce (not syrup)
Fontana Caramel Sauce (not syrup)
Fontana Coconut Syrup
Fontana Semi-Sweet Chocolate Mocha Sauce (not syrup)
Fontana White Chocolate Mocha Syrup (not syrup)
Starbucks Classic Syrup (basically just sugar water that mixes more easily with beverages than plain sugar)
Starbucks Mocha Powder
Starbucks Hazelnut Syrup
Starbucks Peppermint Syrup
Starbucks Toffee Nut Syrup

 

Starbucks in my go-to place for getting dye-free food on the road.  My kids’ favorite things to get are the oatmeal cookies and slow-roasted ham and swiss breakfast sandwich.  Personally, I love anything that involves coffee.  It’s a win for everybody!

Click here to find a Starbucks near you (if you there isn’t one on every other street corner in your town).  😉

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**UPDATE**

I wanted to add that you should beware of buying the “skinny” version of Starbucks drinks.  At most coffee places, skinny just means you want skim milk instead of 2% or whole.  However, some of the skinny drinks listed on Starbucks’ menu use sugar-free syrups and powders too.  Anything with those low-calorie or sugar-free syrups contains the artificial sweetener sucralose (aka Splenda) instead of real sugar.  Sucralose is bad news.  I say skip the syrups all together if you’re that worried about calories.  It’s not worth the risks associated with ingesting sucralose.  Dr. Mercola has a good article on the potential harmful effects of sucralose.  Note that his article is from 2009.  There’s been even more evidence stacking up against sucralose over the past 5 years.  A simple Google search will prove it.  Moral of the story: If you ask for something “skinny”, make sure the barista knows you just mean skim milk.