Food Coloring

“Food coloring” is anything that is added to food to alter or intensify color. Various substances are widely used in commercial food production, and food coloring is sold in grocery stores for home baking projects and egg-dyeing.


Color additives have been an integral part of culinary arts throughout much of human history. Ancient Egyptian writings describe colorings used to dye drugs, and food colors are believed by archaeologists to have been around since 1500 B.C.


Food colorings are sold in concentrated forms: liquids, gels, pastes and powders.

  • The liquid form, most common and widely available, generally gives a weaker color.
  • Gels give a strong color and blend in more easily than powders and pastes.
  • Paste varieties offer a wider range of colors and impart a deeper more vivid tint than liquids and gels. They are very concentrated and should be used quite sparingly.
  • Powdered colors are also very concentrated and can be used in recipes, such as coconut or sugar coloring, etc., that wouldn’t do well with water-based colors.

Buying Tips

Liquid color forms are most widely available and can be found at almost any grocery store, while gels, pastes and powders might be more difficult to come by. Even more specialized varieties of each of these forms are available at some specialty baking stores or by catalogue.

Storage Tips

Food colorings are used so sparingly that, for the occasional baker, they are used up very slowly and can be kept in the pantry for years.

Usage Tips

Coloring is used to color icings, baking projects and Easter eggs. When using colors just for fun at home, just follow the instructions on the colors and remember that a little goes a long way.

If striving for more nuanced artistic success, particularly in projects such as cake decorating, there are a number of things you can keep in mind for optimal success.

  • • Colors can transmit feelings and moods towards foods, so choose carefully. Warm feelings are generally associated with reds and yellows, and cool colors are linked to greens and blues.
  • Dark colors, particularly reds and blacks, should be used sparingly: they can add a bitter tinge and leave stains inside the mouth. A pinch of salt can help decrease bitterness.
  • Tinted icing can darken over several hours—make the food a shade lighter than you actually want it if you will be keeping it overnight.
  • If you mix colors, keep in mind that it may be near impossible to match the color in subsequent batches.
  • To add color to frosting, increase slowly: one toothpick dab at a time. A little goes a long way!
  • Diluting colors with vodka or gin rather than water can water them down more effectively.
  • Ingredients in icing can effect colors: shortening, butter or margarine can darken colors while lemon juice can lighten colors.
  • Salt can leave little light flecks in icing, which can be helped by mixing colors the night before.