The 11 Best Substitutes For Food Coloring

What can I use instead of food coloring? The best substitutes for red food coloring are red beets, pomegranate juice, and paprika. Try using red cabbage or berries for purple and violet colors and blue spirulina for pale blue. Green food coloring substitutes are spirulina, spinach, and matcha. For a yellow shade, use golden beets, saffron, or carrots.

Synthetic food coloring might be harmful to children and provides no nutritional value. Plant-based colorants are far healthier and are easy to make at home. Here are our top 10 safe, natural substitutes for food coloring.

Red Beets

Red beets are an excellent substitute for red food coloring.

Have you ever peeled a beetroot? Your hands stain red very quickly. This bright red pigment, betalain, is an antioxidant, working against inflammation, heart disease, and stroke.

To color food using beets, puree, or juice a beet and then use the juice as food coloring – add a drop of the juice to your frosting or dough for a lovely pinkish-red shade.

For a more intense red, bring beets to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the beets are tender. Use the cooking liquid as a food dye, starting with a teaspoon at a time until you get the desired shade.

The more beet juice you use, the more you will taste the nuttiness of the beets – use it in red velvet cupcakes or chocolate cakes.

Pomegranate Juice

Another substitute for red food coloring is pomegranate juice.

This delicious and unusual juice is high in antioxidants and phytochemicals and provides 40% of your vitamin C requirements for one day.

Use pomegranate juice to color frosting, ice cream, or cupcakes a beautiful pinkish-red. The flavor of the juice enhances the sugary sweetness.

Make a concentrate to get more vivid color and intense flavor from pomegranate juice. The concentrate will be very sweet and rich.

Cook a cup of freshly squeezed juice over very low heat (or in a small crockpot) without a lid. Allow the liquid to cook until it begins to thicken and reduces to about ¼ of its original volume.


Use paprika as a food coloring substitute in savory food.

Paprika, a spice made from dried, ground red peppers, tastes peppery and rich.

Adding paprika to a dish gives it a lovely orange or deep red-orange shade, depending on how much you use. As you add more paprika, both the color and flavor will intensify.

Use paprika to add a flash of color to savory bakes or add it to chili.

Red Cabbage

Red cabbage is a substitute for purple food coloring.

Red cabbage has a beautiful purple-red pigment made from anthocyanins, a plant compound that functions as an antioxidant and is beneficial for human health.

To extract the color from red cabbage, wash and chop the cabbage, put it in a pot of water, and simmer for 10 minutes. Use the purple cooking water as a food coloring.

You can also make blue coloring from this liquid. Add ½ teaspoon of baking soda – a chemical reaction will change the fluid from purple to blue.

Take care, as adding too much baking soda will make the liquid taste unpleasant.

Unfortunately, the liquid color of red cabbage can be a little bitter, so use it sparingly, in spicy bakes, or to color boiled eggs.


Berries come in several shades, making them ideal substitutes for food coloring.

Acai berry powder will create a deep purple shade, like the fruit in an acai bowl. Mix acai berry powder with a little warm water before adding to batter.

Strawberries will add a pretty pink hue to food if you blend raw strawberries into frosting, cake filling, or ice cream.

Use blueberries in the same way as strawberries to get a lovely bluish-purple color.

Cranberries are an excellent choice for red coloring. Boil them for 10 minutes to extract their pigment. Puree the berries and liquid to add a bright, tart food coloring.

Another way to use berries is to blitz freeze-dried berries in a food processor. The powdered berries make beautiful food coloring, almost as vivid as artificial coloring.

Use berry powder to tint frosting, whipped cream, white cakes, or ice cream.


Another natural colorant is spirulina. Derived from highly nutritious algae, spirulina comes in the form of blue and green powder.

Blue spirulina (well known by the brand name Blue Majik) will color smoothies, lattes, desserts, or ice cream from pastel or baby blue to a deep blue, depending on how much you add.

Green spirulina contains chlorophyll, which works well as a green food coloring, giving you a gorgeous forest green shade. Add a bit of green spirulina to color pancakes, frosting, porridge, or cake.

The more spirulina you add, the more intense the flavor. Take care, as spirulina can have a bitter, herbaceous taste.


For a green food coloring substitute, try spinach. Spinach is a nutritional powerhouse with its bright green leaves.

For savory dishes, simply add shredded spinach leaves or spinach puree to the batter or mixture, giving it a natural green shade.

If you want a brighter green, juice the spinach and add a couple of teaspoons to pancake batter or cake batter. 


Another natural substitute for green coloring is matcha powder.

Matcha is a Japanese green tea that comes finely milled or powdered. It makes a delicious detoxifying tea and a beautiful green latte, full of antioxidants.

Use matcha powder as a coloring agent for frosting, cake batter, smoothies, or yogurt, which will turn a gentle green to olive green, depending on how much powder is used.

The matcha flavor is slightly grassy but isn’t noticeable in sweet bakes.

Golden Beets

Golden beets are an ideal substitute for yellow food coloring.

Just as you can use red beets for red food coloring, you can turn to the golden variety for a lovely yellow shade.

To extract the coloring for golden beets, it’s best to cook them first in a pot of water. Once the beets are tender, remove them and allow the liquid to reduce and concentrate further. Use the concentrated liquid as a coloring.

Puree the beets and add to a yellow cake batter if you don’t mind the beet flavor or sweetness.

Cook the beets with a teaspoon of turmeric and puree them together for a more vivid yellow. Turmeric has a powerfully savory flavor, so don’t use too much.


Carrots are a handy substitute for orange food coloring.

Although carrots come in white, red, yellow, and purple, orange carrots are the most common variety.

The orange pigment is beta-carotene, which our bodies convert into vitamin A. This vitamin is good for the eyes – hence the encouragement by grandmas to eat carrots to see in the dark.

To use carrots as a food coloring, juice raw carrots and use the liquid to create a pale orange shade.

Another way of using carrots is to dehydrate them and create carrot powder.

Slice the carrots very thinly and dry them in a food dehydrator or oven.

Grind the dried carrot chips to a fine powder and use it as a coloring agent, especially at Halloween.


The exotic and costly spice saffron is a luxurious substitute for yellow food coloring.

Saffron comes from the saffron crocus and consists of the flower’s dried stigma and styles, called threads. The plant flowers seasonally, and the saffron must be picked by hand, making it a very labor-intensive crop.

Fortunately, you don’t need much saffron to color food.

Place one tiny pinch of saffron threads in a cup of water and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and steep for 15 minutes.

Strain, return the liquid to the heat, and reduce to a couple of tablespoons. Allow the concentrated liquid to cool before using it to color cake or frosting.

For savory dishes, add the saffron directly to the food as its earthiness will enhance and flavor the dish – it is ideal in rice.