Food colour made from fruits, vegetables and spices
Purée, juice or powder… ingredients in your refrigerator and kitchen shelves can be turned into fun edible colours
One of ‘Natural colour artist’ Manya Cherabuddi’s students used colour extracted from red cabbage to ‘colour’ a batch of white chocolate, “No! the chocolates did not taste of cabbage,” she says, dispelling a common misconception about food colour made from vegetables and fruits.
“Usually the seasoning and sweetener overpowers the taste of the vegetable or fruit used to extract colour. For instance, if you use beetroot for colour in your pasta, it wouldn’t be very strong as there is the pasta sauce. It does not take away anything from the dish, especially if you consider its nutritional value,” says Hyderabad-based Manya (@manya_cherabuddi on Instagram).
A rainbow cake made using synthetic colours for a child in the family made her wonder about the impact on their health and a dermatologist friend telling her about food allergies and rashes that artificial colours cause in children got her thinking of natural food colours. Especially since she had the experience of making colours out of things she found in nature — flowers, plants, leaves and fruits.
Her sources for the natural food colouring are vegetables and fruits like spinach, tomatoes, beetroot, turmeric, berries. These can be used in cakes, cookies, desserts, idli, dosa and any other dish. She puts to good use kitchen waste too — vegetable peels, tea leaves, coffee powder and even vegetables gone bad — as water-colour ‘paints’ and dye for fabric/paper.
The process of extraction depends on the use, “If it is for a cake, the colour can be more liquid; the juice becomes the colouring agent. If the recipe is not semi-liquid, then a purée and if the ingredients are dry then sun-dried and powdered colour. Imported edible, natural colour brands use the freeze-drying technique but that equipment would not be available at home. However, dehydration can be done at home using an oven or an OTG (oven-toast-grill) on low heat. These are age-old methods, of drying in the sun, powdering and preserving,” she says. The liquid colours or pulp can be frozen and used when needed.
Compared to the neon brightness of synthetic colours in food, these might appear dull. She says, “If fresh ingredients are used it would have ‘more colour’. These may not be bright but they are soothing and nutritive. Freeze-dried colours retain vibrancy.” Sometimes an ingredient, like pistachio, can be the colour in pistachio ice cream without other additives. Paan-flavoured ice cream however would need extra colour as paan leaves give a pale shade; spinach purée can be used to enhance it, she says.
- Add a pinch of turmeric powder to the batter for yellow
- Add carrot purée for orange
- Add beetroot purée for pink
- Add spinach purée for green
- The vegetable puree can constitute approximately 40-50% of the batter, it adds nutrition and colour. Keep the consistency of the idli/dosa batter as close to the one you regularly use.
Two years ago Manya, who quit a job at a design firm, ‘stumbled onto’ the world of natural dyes. She applied the knowledge she gained to create natural fabric dyes at home, which she used for babies and toddlers in her circle. She also began conducting natural fabric and paper dye-making workshops, and making art supplies like water colour paints and crayons from foraged flowers and leaves; the workshops are now online.
While she was at this, she was thinking of more practical ways to make natural dyes a could be part of daily life of people, in a more practical way. “You cannot dye a fabric regularly and it was also something that not everybody would use,” she says of how she started exploring natural, edible colours. With lockdown, Manya started researching and experimenting toward that end. Among those who joined her edible colour classes were vegans, chefs, bakers and even soap, candle and skincare makers.
“There is a huge demand for them because people now are more conscious about what they use, and its impact on the environment,” she says.