The thing about cooking with natural food colours

Avoiding additives like unnecessary colours, flavours, or preservatives in cooking is a coup for the average healthy cooking enthusiast but one of the places people often come unstuck is with regard to finding suitable natural alternative food colours.

So the thing to be mindful about when it comes to using whole food natural food colour alternatives in your cooking is that they come with a flavour as well as a colour.

The way I think about this is to sort the foods and their flavours into savoury, sweet or in-betweens (eg. foods which can be used in sweet dishes as well as savoury ones).

The commercial food colours you buy have been isolated in a lab so that they’re so concentrated they’re essentially just a colour component. But when you’re using the whole food – like raspberries for example you’ll find they provide a great red colour as well as a sweet-tart flavour which is very different to beetroot which will also add a dark red/ pinky colour to a recipe and has more of a sweet-earthy flavour.

So choosing the appropriate whole food alternative will depend on the kind of recipe you’re making and then finding a natural alternative with a flavour that will blend in with that recipe.

Eg. you wouldn’t want to put raspberries in Glenys’ Red Pasta Sauce without Tomato or Capsicum right? Or spinach to colour your ice cream. Or blitzed tomato on top of a cheese cake.

red pasta sauce

In The Lasagne Episode Glenys achieved that beautiful red in her pasta sauce by combining beetroot, carrot and sweet potato and the effect is pretty impressive.

Some foods despite their own lovely natural colour don’t really add colour to a recipe but are great in adding a strong pleasant flavour and they can be used to mask the stronger flavours in foods with a beautiful vibrant colour . eg. in The Cold Drinks Episode Hayley uses the strong flavour of the pineapple and banana to mask the strong flavour of the greens in her green smoothie.

green smoothie

Sometimes in a recipe you won’t want the colour or the flavour of the the food, instead you’ll want to get the flavours from herbs, spices or other foods but you’ll need a “bulking agent” without a strong colour or flavour. A good example of this is the zucchini in Hayley’s Raw Zucchini Hoummus from The Hoummus Episode. In that recipe Hayley peels the zucchini so the Hoummus isn’t green and so the person tasting the recipe gets all the other delicious flavours. We’ve had some people taste that recipe and not actually realise there were no chickpeas in it.


If you’d like more tips on cooking with whole foods or creating your own alternatives, watch our Episodes, and check out our Books.