The Natural Food Coloring that the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen Swears By

I didn’t realize how ungroovy my cookie game was until I saw Rick Martinez’s Tie-Dye Butter Cookies on the cover of the December issue. Swirled with licks of hot pink and cobalt blue icing, they were developed with fierce holiday cookie swaps in mind, but they’d be just as welcome at a Grateful Dead tailgate or a VSCO Girl theme party. “I knew that I wanted colorful cookies that were festive but that didn’t scream Christmas,” Rick told me. Out with the green and red, in with the pink and blue.

Rick also knew that he didn’t want to use synthetic food coloring in his cookies. “The stuff you get at the grocery store does a number on your dough,” he explains. “If you add a tablespoon of it to a perfectly delicious, moist cake recipe, it’ll come out sad and dry.” The antithesis of the holiday spirit! Plus, what is synthetic food coloring anyway? According to respected scientific journal Wikipedia, the food coloring Blue #1, which is found in everything from Jolly Ranchers to canned processed peas to Blue Curaçao, is a “synthetic dye produced by the condensation of 2-formylbenzenesulfonic acid and the appropriate aniline followed by oxidation blah blah blah.” For our favorite recipes using 2-formylbenzenesulfonic acid, click here.

Watch Rick go to work on his Tie-dye cookies.

So Rick went in search of a natural food coloring alternative. “I certainly wasn’t going to ask anybody to make a natural dye,” he says—although if you are the extra credit type, check out Healthyish’s guide to making your own. He settled on Suncore Foods Supercolor Powders, which come in a wide array of hues, from violet to aqua to yellow. For the Tie-Dye Butter Cookies, Rick used the Pink Pataya (made from 100 percent pure red dragon fruit powder) and Blue Butterfly Pea (made from 100 percent pure butterfly pea flower powder). In addition to having pronounceable ingredients, the natural dyes impressed Rick with their vibrancy and variety. “If you were using that little four pack of green, blue, yellow, and red,” he says, “you’d have to do a lot of mixing to get such a specific fuchsia color. Even then it would be tough, and if you had to make several batches, you probably wouldn’t be able to achieve the same color consistently.”

Forecast for 2020: more tie-dye.

Photo by Ted + Chelsea Cavanaugh, food styling by Michelle Gatton, prop styling by Beatrice Chastka

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