Homemade Food Coloring - Healthy and Toxin Free
What would the world be like if everything was black and white? Gloomy. Insipid. Lifeless. Probably so. Colors do affect our moods as well as increase our appetite. Look at little children, for example. They tend to enjoy colorful Trix cereal more than boring shredded wheat, and get more excited to taste a bright rainbow cake rather than a simple coconut pie. In fact, adults are like that, too. Imagine two dishes sitting in front of you: one is a salad filled with colorful slices of carrot, apple and lettuce whereas the other is a bowl of dull-green Greek horta. Both are nutritious and tasty, but most of us will probably go with the salad. Why? It looks more appetizing.
An appetizing appearance, however, sometimes comes with a price. One little drop of artificial food coloring can make your plain vanilla icing turn hot pink in a minute, yet it might be ruining your health at the same time. Don't just assume that you're safe because you don't eat multi-color baked goods or candy very often. Synthetic food coloring can also be found in other types of food including sausages, fruit cocktails and even salmon. First, let's take a look at possible dangers of artificial food coloring, reported in recent research studies. And then let's see how we can make our own homemade food coloring and use basic natural ingredients in the kitchen to color our foods.
Beautiful Poisons - Food Dyes to Avoid
Allura Red AC or Red 17
Asthma, Rhinitis, Cancer, ADHD in children
Snacks, Sauces, Candies and Soft Drinks
Brilliant Blue or Blue 1
Cancer, Tumors and ADHD in Children
Gelatins, Beverages, Icings, Syrups and Candies
Erythrosine or Red 3
Thyroid Tumors and Chromosomal Damage
Baked goods, Candies, Popsicles and Condiments
Fast Green or Green 3
Allergies, Tumors and Mutagenic Effects
Baked Goods, Gelatins, Sauces, Icings, Vegetables
Allergies, Kidney Damage and ADHD in Children
Sausages and Hot Dogs
Sunset Yellow or Yellow 6
Adrenal Gland and Kidney Tumors
Baked Goods, Sausages, Gelatins
TarTrazine or Yellow 5
Asthmatic Attacks, Migraines, ADHD in Children, Blurred Vision and Anxiety
Snacks, Cereals, Jams, Instant Noodles, Cake Mixes and Candies
There are actually a lot more food dyes and additives that might negatively affect your health, but I chose to present these seven "beautiful poisons" because their potential harms have been discussed and studied the most, in Europe and America. Allura red AC, in particular, has been banned in many European countries, such as Denmark, France, Switzerland and Sweden. It seems like the connection between the color red and danger isn't just a metaphor after all.
Do you know what most artificial food dyes are derived from? Petrochemicals and coal tar. That doesn't sound like something humans or even animals should eat, does it? And yet, foods "intentionally contaminated" with those dangerous chemicals are widely available in most supermarkets. Junk food and sodas are not the only culprits. Sometimes sauces, vegetables, meat and fish are dyed with synthetic colors as well.
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD is one of the main concerns that have raised the question whether or not artificial food coloring should be banned. In 2007, the University of Southampton research team conducted a study on synthetic food coloring and ADHD in children, with double-blinded, placebo-controlled techniques. The trial's participants included 300 children, aged 3 - 9 years old. Astonishingly, the research found that nearly 100% of the children demonstrated higher levels of hyperactivity in their behaviors after consuming foods with artificial coloring.
Besides ADHD, these food dyes have also been linked to other serious health issues including tumors, cancer and various types of allergic reactions. To avoid putting yourself and your loved ones at risk of these illnesses, pay more attention to the labels on the foods you're going to buy. If it contains artificial food coloring, you'd better put it back on the shelf. Opt for food products with natural food coloring instead. Or to be even safer, buy foods that contain no added color at all.
Bringing Color to Your Foods the Natural Way
One thing I would like to assure you about making homemade food coloring is that it is easy! I'm the queen of laziness myself. Just like most modern consumers, I am quite addicted to convenience. That's why I would like to present the following natural food-coloring techniques, which are not too laborious for convenience lovers to achieve. Unlike artificial food coloring, these natural colorants will do no harm to your body and might even improve your health with their abundant nutrients.
Make Purple Food Coloring from Red Cabbage
To make purple food coloring, all you need is one half of a big red-cabbage head. First, chop cabbage into big chunks and put them into a pot of boiling water. The amount of water should be just enough to cover the cabbage. After about an hour, the cabbage should lose its color while the water should turn dark purple. Remove from heat and let cool. Once it is completely cool, discard the cabbage (I saved mine to put in soup or stew). To illustrate the effectiveness of this homemade purple colorant, I used it to make purple steamed rice, by simply replacing water with this natural food dye and then letting the rice cooker do the rest of the job. My steamed rice came out gorgeously purple and didn't smell too much like boiled cabbage. I named it "Riso Purpuraceous."
My "Riso Purpuraceous"
Red Cabbage and Its Cancer-Fighting Nutrients
Anthocyanins or cancer-fighting compounds, which give blue and purple fruits their antioxidant power, are also found abundantly in red cabbage. According to recent research by scientists at the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), red cabbage contains 36 types of anthocyanins that can help prevent cancer, improve cardiovascular health and promote brain function. One cup of boiled red cabbage delivers approximately 4,700 ORAC units (oxygen radical absorbency capacity, the measure of antioxidant power), which is about 50% higher than the minimum amount of antioxidants recommended per day.
In addition, red cabbage is also rich in indole-3-carbinole (I3C), a type of phytochemical that can reduce the risk of breast cancer. It is thus a vegetable women should adopt into their regular diets. Other cancer-fighting nutrients in red cabbage include vitamin A, vitamin C and glucosinolates, which together help battle free radicals and stimulate the body's own natural detoxification enzymes. No wonder many detox recipes use red cabbage as one of the main ingredients.
Make Red Food Coloring from Dried Hibiscus Flowers
My second food-coloring experiment owes its success to dried hibiscus flowers. The process is very similar to what we do with the red cabbage. First, boil 1/2 cup of dried hibiscus with about 10 cups of water. Let it boil for about an hour. Remove from heat, strain and let cool.
I decided to try this homemade food coloring on bow-tie pasta, so I put my red food dye back on the stove and brought it to a boil again. To complete my experiment, I added about 1 cup of farfalle to it and patiently waited for the pasta to be done. It turned out wonderful. Although the hibiscus gave the pasta a tiny bit of a sour taste, it can be rescued easily with the help of robust pasta sauce. I love that vivid red, by the way. The title I gave this artistic invention is "Farfalle En Rouge."
My "Farfalle En Rouge"
Does Hibiscus contain any Health Benefits?
Yes, it certainly does. Hibiscus tea is heart-friendly due to its ability to lower blood pressure. Hibiscus tea drinkers therefore might be less at risk of having heart attacks and strokes. Researchers from Tufts University conducted a placebo-controlled study where participants with high blood pressure were supposed to drink 3 cups of hibiscus tea everyday for six weeks. After the six-week period, it turned out that the participants' blood pressure levels were considerably lower, especially among those who had mild hypertension. As for the placebo group, there was no significant change in their blood pressure levels. Besides its ability to beat hypertension, hibiscus tea also has the potential to prevent cancer, owing to its richness in antioxidants. Moreover, this herbal tea has a cooling effect on the body. That's why some older women use it as a home remedy to relieve the intensity of menopausal hot flashes.
And yet, there are a few cautions to keep in mind. First, people whose blood pressure is already low should avoid hibiscus tea or only drink it in moderation. Second, hibiscus tea is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, as it might cause undesirable side effects in the baby or fetus. And third, hibiscus tea might curtail the effectiveness of some medicines such as anti-inflammatory drugs.
Use Turmeric As Yellow Food Coloring
Growing up in Thailand, using turmeric as a natural food colorant is nothing new to me. Turmeric lends its golden shade to a variety of Asian dishes from curries and soups to salads and desserts. Although it has a slightly tart taste and distinctive fragrance, it can be added to desserts without clashing with other ingredients if applied in moderation. In this video, I was up for something quirky, so I used turmeric to give my banana cookies a nice yellow tint. They tasted great! Turmeric did deliver a very mild herbal scent, though the smell of banana was still stronger. You can use turmeric with all types of baked goods or icings. Any aroma enhancers, like vanilla or almond extract, will easily overpower the scent of turmeric. But for me, I actually like how turmeric smells. Unlike cumin and pepper, turmeric isn't too overwhelming at all. In fact, it smells very similar to ginger, which is why I heart it.
See How I Made My Gold Star Cookies with Turmeric
Turmeric's Healing Power
Turmeric has been used in Chinese and Indian herbal medicines for centuries. In India's Ayurvedic study, turmeric is considered a body cleansing herb. In fact, turmeric's therapeutic capacity lies in its orange-yellow pigment called "curcumin." The most potent medicinal property of curcumin is its anti-inflammatory power, which has been proven to be comparable to some anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Phenylbutazone and Motrin. Recent studies even suggest that turmeric might be able to relieve certain inflammatory bowel diseases including Crohn's and ulcerative colitis. And unlike most synthetic anti-inflammatory drugs, turmeric does not contain toxicity that might result in decreased white blood cell count or intestinal bleeding.
In addition, turmeric has high potential to ward off cancer when used with certain herbs and vegetables. For example, curcumin in turmeric and quercitin in onions can team up to decrease the size and number of precancerous lesions in the intestinal tract, which accordingly lowers the risk of colon cancer. Also, curcumin can effectively decelerate the growth of prostate cancer cells when combined with phytochemicals in cruciferous vegetables, such as cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage.
Turmeric is rarely allergenic to humans. Most people experience no major side effects from turmeric consumption. However, consuming high doses of turmeric for an extended period of time might lead to development of kidney stones, obstructive jaundice and liver disorders.
Learn more about how to include turmeric in your diet.
Use Matcha Green Tea Powder as Green Food Coloring
You probably have seen green tea cakes or ice cream before. Using green tea in desserts is a great way to enhance the look and fragrance. I've heard that some people sprinkle green tea powder over their salads as well. Green-tea potato salad, in particular, has become a kind of "fad food" among health-concerned foodies. You may also make green-tea pasta by boiling your pasta in a pot of brewed green tea, just like how I made my Farfalle En Rouge.
The brand of Matcha green-tea powder that works best as green food coloring is DoMatcha. Sencha is another well-known brand, but from my experience, DoMatcha is much more effective. In this video, I used green tea powder to make my "jade macaroons." It's very easy and doesn't require many ingredients. Watch out for the high amount of sugar and calories, though. Don't go gaga on them. Eat only a few a day.
My Jade Macaroons!
Numerous Health Benefits of Green Tea
Green tea is like an elixir that will protect you from various types of illnesses. First of all, it helps lower cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. To be more precise, researchers claim that the rate of heart attack could decrease by 11% with consumption of 3 cups of green tea a day. Furthermore, plentiful antioxidants in green tea can prevent many types of cancer. This health benefit has been proven by the fact that cancer rates tend to be lower in countries where people regularly drink green tea, such as Japan and China. For diabetics, green tea may help stabilize blood sugar. For people who are trying to get slim, green tea can facilitate weight loss by speeding up their metabolism.
Since green tea contains a small amount of caffeine, people who are sensitive to caffeine or suffer from insomnia should consume it in moderation. Consult with your doctor whether green tea is appropriate for your condition if you are on antibiotics, Benzodiazepines, Lithium, Ephedrine, beta-blockers or blood thinners. Green tea might counteract against these medications.