Learn how to use your food scraps to create an all natural food coloring and dye to color Fabrics, Paper, Frosting and Easter Eggs with this easy natural dye recipe
Making dyes has long been a favorite hobby of mine. It is a neverending fascination trying to figure out the optimal method to coax the colors out a plant, fruit or vegetable. There are just so many different variations to it!
For this experiment, I gathered a bunch of fruits and vegetables (spinach, carrots, blueberries, avocados (skins and seeds), beets*, red cabbage) and some spices (turmeric and paprika).
(* I was not able to find fresh beets so this time I used canned including the liquid which worked out just fine)
While there are different dye methods out there, let me show you how to make natural dyes from food my way which is also super easy.
- Which plants and vegetables make the best dye?
- Do I need a mordant to dye with food colors?
- Natural Dye Recipes
- Making dye from Vegetable and Fruit Scraps
- Dye from Powdered Spices
- How to make a dye from beans
- Changing the color with PH modifiers
- What materials can be naturally dyed?
- Will dye made from food fade or wash out?
- How long does it take for natural food color to fade?
- How do you set natural dye in fabric?
- What is the best natural food coloring?
- Helpful Natural Dyeing Books
- Can food dye clothes?
Which plants and vegetables make the best dye?
Basically, any plant material that has some kind of liquid in it can be used as a dye but of course, some are better suited than others.
You can take this a step further by sourcing only organically grown vegetables to make an organic food dye.
Also note that in some instances, the color can be altered by changing the PH. This can be done by adding vinegar and/or baking soda. (See the Red Cabbage example below)
Following is listing of fruit, vegetables and spices that provide pretty good color:
Lemon, Turmeric, Golden Beets, Saffron
Oranges, Paprika, Onion Skins, Carrots
Beets, Pomegranate, Cherries
PINK OR PEACH:
Avocado, Strawberries, Raspberries, Red Cabbage
Red Cabbage, Blueberries, Blackberries
Black Beans, Red Cabbage
Spinach, Parsley, Artichoke
Coffee, Tea, Onion Peels
Do I need a mordant to dye with food colors?
This is the tricky part and the quick answer is … it depends.
What is a mordant?
A mordant is a substance that helps natural colors adhere to fabrics. Since most dyes made from plants and food have no adhering compound of their own, you have to provide that in the form of a mordant.
This process is necessary to keep the colors from washing out and is generally not needed for staining papers or coloring cake frosting.
The good thing about making dyes with food is that you really don’t need any special tools or equipment.
Since you are not handling any potentially toxic chemical dyes, you can use whatever pots, pans, measuring cups, etc. that you already have available.
Other than that, all you need to do is head to the grocery story and pick up the produce and spices.
- Produce: Blueberries, Red Cabbage, Spinach, Carrots, Beets, Avocados
- Spices: Turmeric, Paprika
- Chopping Knife
- Cutting Board
- Box Grater
- Measuring Cups and Spoons
- Medium Saucepan
- Stove or Hot Plate
- Mason Jars with Lids
Here is how I dyed paper using these all natural eco friendly dyes!
Natural Dye Recipes
If you have searched the Internet, you know that there are many different recipes out there.
Some dyers use a 1:2 ratio vs. 1:1, others heat their dyestuff for a longer time and so on. Everybody has their own style and preferences. This is simply how I make my food dyes.
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Making dye from Vegetable and Fruit Scraps
For most vegetable scraps, the actual dye recipe is basically the same:
Chop up your vegetables, combine with water, bring to a boil and simmer for about an hour. Then you pour the mixture through a strainer and the dye liquid is ready to use.
My ratio of food stuffs to water was 1:1 which means use 1 cup of chopped veggies to 1 cup water.
To make an onion peel dye, gather as many onion skins as you can and cover with water, then simmer.
(You will use these same step by step instructions for red cabbage dye and the other vegetables below)
Using a sharp chopping knife, cut the cabbage into roughly bite size pieces. (In general, the smaller you cut it, the more dye color you get)
Place the chunks of cut up red cabbage pieces in a saucepan or medium sized cook pot.
Next, add an equal amount of water or at least enough to cover your cabbage completely.
Bring the pot to a light boil and then lower heat. Cover the pot and simmer the cabbage for about 1 hour.
Strain the liquid from the red cabbage. (Be careful as the liquid will be very hot!)
Pour your fresh dye liquid into a mason jar and then place it in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Repeat the above steps with the rest of your vegetables and all of the blueberries.
Optional: to extract a little more color, blend or process your cooked vegetables with the water.
If you do, you will also need to strain them through a coffee filter or paper towel to get the majority of the pulp out of the liquid.
As I said above, I had trouble finding fresh beets so I just used a can. This 15 oz can contained roughly 1 cup cut up beets to 3/4 cup liquid so I used water to make up the difference.
Carefully grate all of the carrots into small pieces. Graters are super sharp so watch your fingers and knuckles!
No make a natural green dye, with a big knife, roughly chop all of the spinach leaves and stems. (The smaller the pieces, the more dye color you will get)
Avocado Seeds and Skin
For the avocados, remove the flesh and scrub the peels and seeds. Roughly chop the peels.
(Note: I think my avocado peels were a bit too old to give a good color. The last time I used them, I ended up with a pretty pink color)
To make a natural blue food dye, whole blueberries can be simmered whole or you can use a potato smasher to open them up.
Dye from Powdered Spices
To make a dye from turmeric, paprika or other spices, you will simply simmer 1 Tablespoon of the spice with 1 Cup of water for about 15 to 30 minutes and then strain.
To make a yellow or gold Turmeric dye:
Powdered Paprika makes a red to brown color
How to make a dye from beans
I did not use any beans for this experiment but if you are interested, you can learn how to do that in this tutorial for making a black bean dye.
Basically, you have to soak your dry beans for a day or two and then strain. The liquid dye is not heated until the actual dye process.
Find out how to Scour Cellulose Fabric such as Cotton or Linen for natural dyeing
That is all there is to it! These are just a few of the foods you can turn into dye. Go to the produce department and see what other fun fruits or vegetables you can find.
Now that you know how to make natural dyes from food scraps and spices, you can experiment with making plant dyed clothing, organic tie dye or maybe you can make some fun colored frosting for a birthday cake?
Check back soon to see how I dye paper with my food dyes (which I will then make into journals).
Changing the color with PH modifiers
Making a dye from food scraps in your home kitchen is a little bit of a crapshoot because it is dependent on many different factors.
For instance, where I live, we have extremely hard water. If you happen to use soft water, your final color will probably be different.
So, if you follow my instructions to a tee and still come up with a different color, it does not mean that you did anything wrong!
It can simply be the PH of your water, the time of year your produce was harvested or a number of other factors.
Example: The experiment below shows you the different colors you can get from a Red Cabbage dye by adding white vinegar or baking soda.
After letting it sit for a while, the red cabbage only dye changed to a deeper blue and the dye stock with baking soda added changed to a bright green color.
What materials can be naturally dyed?
There are lots of different things that can be colored with homemade dyes from vegetables, fruit and spices, including:
- Fabric (Wool, Cotton, Linen, Silk, etc.)
- Easter Eggs
- Cakes *
- Frosting *
* Homemade food coloring works especially well as in baked goods such as cakes and frosting.
So, instead of using synthetic red food dye #40, you can substitute your beet or red cabbage natural food coloring for frosting and cake batter. Not only is the color much prettier (in my opinion) but it contains no chemicals!
Will dye made from food fade or wash out?
Many natural dyes including those made from fruits and vegetables are considered fugitive. This simply means that they are not colorfast and will, in time, fade or wash out.
This won’t mean anything for your natural colored frosting or cake but mainly affects fabric and papers.
How long does it take for natural food color to fade?
How long it takes depends on a number of different factors including the type of food you used, the dye method, type of mordant (if any) as well as exposure to sunlight, rain and air.
For instance, a cotton tea towel that is used and washed continuously will fade much faster than one that is mainly kept in a cabinet.
How do you set natural dye in fabric?
In general, dye made from food will eventually fade or wash out no matter what you do. You can, however, delay that somewhat by pre-treating your fabric with a mordant such as Alum or Soy Milk.
Which mordant you use depends on the material you wish to dye. For instance, wool will require a different substance and method than a plant based fiber like cotton or linen.
To learn more about mordanting fabric, check out this helpful article.
(FYI – Certain plants, trees and flowers can be used to create a more colorfast dye than one made from food scraps.)
What is the best natural food coloring?
Which is best really depends on how much time you have and how much work you want to put in. If making the dye is part of the entire project (for instance if you want to teach your kids how make dyes), then obviously, go for the homemade vegetable dyes.
If, however, you are in a hurry and only want to add some natural color to your baked good, you can order all plant based, natural food dye powders that work really well.
Helpful Natural Dyeing Books
The world of dyeing with plant materials is so vast, people spend a lifetime trying to discover all the secrets. Well, if the bug has bit you, here are some excellent resources for you to start with:
Can food dye clothes?
Yes, you absolutely can dye clothing with natural food dyes. But, there are a few things you need to consider.
First, the fiber content of your piece of clothing is most important. As a general rule, protein or animal fibers (wool, silk, etc.) are easiest to dye.
Plant fibers (cotton, linen or bamboo) can also be dyed if they have been pretreated with a mordant.Synthetic fibers (polyester, acrylic) will generally not accept natural dyes.
Also keep in mind that stain or dyes made from food are considered to be ‘fugitive’ which means they are not usually colorfast and will wash out or fade.