Baking is a visual experience, and there’s nothing like that perfect pop of colour to make your dessert even more appealing. From coloured cakes, candies and icing, food colouring can be an indispensable tool in a baker’s pantry. The colouring agents available can be as varied as the colours in a palette. It can be difficult to understand what to use and when - which is why we’ve curated this blog to make things easier for you!
First things first: what is food colouring? Food colouring essentially refers to any pigment, dye or substance that imparts colour when added to food or drinks.
Humans have been adding colourants to food as early as 1500 BC, with candy-makers in Egyptian cities adding natural extracts and wine to give their products a brighter appearance. Natural ingredients were often used to impart colour to foods in ancient times. These ranged from plant and herb extracts, fruit and vegetables, and even mineral ores. Sir William Henry Perkin discovered the first synthetic colour in 1856 while working to formulate an anti-malaria drug. This discovery birthed the colour industry, and the rest is history.
Types of colouring used in baking
There are several types of food colouring used in baking. The three most common out of these are:
- Liquid food colouring: Liquid colouring is made of synthetic dye in a water base. As a result, it is watery in its consistency and does not have very concentrated pigments. This type of colouring is best suited to light, pastel tints. For darker colours, a large amount of dye is necessary, which could make your batter or mixture too thin. A few bottles may be necessary to get a rich pop of colour for large desserts. It is best to use liquid food colouring with another liquid medium such as syrup, chocolate or water. Liquid food colouring is a great option for beginners because it is easy to use. It can be used with icing, batter or dough.
- Liquid gel colouring: Liquid gel dye is similar to liquid colouring; however, it is made of synthetic colouring with a base of water, glycerine and/or corn syrup. This gives it a semi-thick consistency and makes it more concentrated than liquid colouring. This type of colouring is often used to create bright-coloured desserts. However, it is best to add the colour one drop at a time to ensure you achieve the right colour. It is a fairly versatile colouring and can be used in most recipes, but bear in mind that its thick consistency could make it difficult to spread evenly into doughs. It is best suited to icing, batter, fondant, gum paste, cake frosting and candies.
- Gel food colouring: This type of colouring also consists of synthetic colouring with a base made out of water, glycerine and/or corn syrup. It has a thick, viscous texture and is extremely concentrated, so a little goes a long way. Gel colouring is the best food colouring for intense, vibrant and darker colours. It is best to collect a small amount of the colouring on a toothpick and incorporate it into your mix. Make sure you let the mix rest for 10-15 minutes before adding more colouring, as gel colours deepen with time. This process will help you achieve your dream colour more accurately. Another pro tip is to take ¼ cup of the batter or icing and add the colouring to it. Mix well and add this mixture to the remaining batter. This method ensures that the colour spreads evenly through the batter and allows you to adjust the intensity of the colour as per your preference.
Gel colouring is a great option if you’re looking to avoid a mess: its gel consistency eliminates the problem of spillage. It’s also well-suited to large batches of icing or batter. Most bakers prefer to use gel food colouring in macarons and meringue-based desserts, such as pavlovas, marshmallows and Swiss meringue buttercream. This is because the textures and consistencies, which play a crucial role in these desserts, remain unchanged in their batters even with the addition of gel colouring.
Gel colouring also makes it very easy to create new shades of colours by yourself, so the possibilities are endless! Here are some simple formulas to get you started:
Pink + Yellow = Coral
1 drop of Blue + 1 drop of Light Green = Aqua
Other food colouring options include powder food colouring, oil-based food colouring, airbrush colouring, and natural food colouring. Powder food colouring is made out of synthetic colouring with no liquid. It is perfect for mixes that are sensitive to any added liquid (such as chocolates and macarons). However, its consistency is not suitable for thick batters. Oil-based food colouring binds to oil-based products (like chocolate and candy melts) and is a specialized form of colouring best suited to fat-based recipes where water would affect the mixture.
Airbrush colouring is made of the same ingredients as liquid gel colouring but varies in viscosity, as it is thinner to suit an airbrush compressor machine. This type of colouring is best for decorations on fondant, dry icing and cakes. Natural food colouring is created from dyes commonly found in nature. This colouring gives subtle, light hues to desserts. However, since natural ingredients tend to have low heat resistance, this colouring is best suited to toppings and desserts that require little to no heat.
Where to source the perfect gel colouring
Are you ready to give your desserts the perfect pop of colour? Well, you’ve come to the right place - because we have just launched our premium gel colours! We have a kaleidoscope of beautiful colours available to make sure your desserts have the most tantalizing tints. Treat your eyes and your tastebuds with The Select Aisle’s gel colouring.