allergy-friendly · birthdays and parties · food color

Coloring With Food

Hello again. For this post, I thought I’d share something colorful and yummy. You know, like I said I’d do.

When Noli was small, I’d sing to him every night before putting him to bed. One of the songs was Mona Lisa, by Nat King Cole. Oh how he loved that song. Then one night, he had a request.

  • I want the song in blue, he said.
  • In blue? What do you mean? I asked.
  • Blue, he explained.
  • You want the song blue.
  • Yes, he confirmed.

That was the briefing. So on I went:

Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa men have loved you, blue blue blue
You’re so like the lady with the blu-ish smile….

I slowly came to understand that kids can be quite happy with your version of what they expect. Be it a song, a hand-sown puppet, a drawing. It doesn’t have to be perfect, nor the greatest. It just needs to be what they asked for, made by you, with your full attention.

And when the challenge becomes, say, a colorful and theme-based birthday cake, this mantra comes in handy. Oh the kids will be happy. Sure. It almost looks like the real thing, I tell myself…

Using food coloring isn’t a very attractive option for me. A lot have chemicals that can be harmful to the nervous system. Quite a few of them can cause allergic reactions. And since my kids, especially my oldest, reacts to a lot of stuff, I don’t want to possibly trigger an allergic reaction, let alone on a special day.

I’ve tried creating blue once, by boiling purple cabbage and using the dark purple water. But that didn’t work out so well. Well, not so blue anyway. And the color was very pale when I blended it in the coconut whipped cream I had made. Blue had left (never showed up really,) and a very pale violet was there instead.

I’ve also never achieved a nice bright red frosting. I sometimes use the red food coloring by Terre Exotique, which is made of maltodextrin and red beet juice only. It can give a good pink. For green, I discovered that using spirulina powder makes a nice shade of green, and you can also get it quite dark if need be. I haven’t experimented a lot with yellow, but I’d assume that turmeric would do the trick. Finally, for black or grey, pure, food-grade charcoal works as well.

However, many times, I decided to put food coloring aside and simply use fruits and vegetables. You’d be amazed the artwork that you can come up with. And the 3-D effects you can create. Like green flames using spinach or orange ones using carrots. Especially if you have one of those spiralizers or thick food sharpener. You’ve probably already seen insanely gorgeous food artwork if you’re on Pinterest. But here’s my two cents: a list of fruits and veggies you can use for colors:

Red: pomegranate, strawberries, raspberries
Deep red: dried cranberries
Yellow: pineapple (fresh, not canned, the latter is very pale yellow), banana (but will brown fast)
Dark purple: blueberries, dark/blue grapes
Green: kiwis, green grapes, spinach
Orange: carrots, oranges, clementines. Blood oranges can give awesome effects.
Brown: dates, raisins
White: coconut (rasped, in flakes or even chunks)

There’s a lot of food out there with vibrant color. I’m still searching for a really nice blue, but honestly, what food is naturally blue? Short of picking the feathers off a kingfisher… I’m not sure what I could do. But not that.

There’s one thing I’ve also tried when it comes to making more complex shapes. I don’t know what it’s called, but it’s something like jerky. I make it using jam. I put a thin layer of jam on parchment paper on an oven tray, and let it bake at a low temperature, say 100C, until it becomes sticky. Let it cool and carve your shape! One thing, the color of the jam will deepen.

So now comes the moment when I get to shamelessly plug in my very own creations.

As a tip, cutting berries and grapes in half (or in pieces, if you have the patience) will prevent them from rolling off your cake art board.

So you see, it’s totally possible to create something fun and attractive, not to mention healthy, for the kiddies. And the grown ups like it too.

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