Ahhh the joys of baking! While some prefer to make candy such as peppermint bark and peanut butter cups, others love the smell and tradition of baking treats such as sugar cookies with yummy frosting. I do too.

In moving into a chem-free life, one inevitably comes to the consideration of food coloring. Isn’t red #40 the only bad one? What about the other ones in moderation? Interestingly, we historically had the right idea in using food and spices as natural food coloring and today, many companies are moving back into that realm, which is wonderful!  

In ancient times, natural ingredients like plant and herb extracts, vegetable and fruit peelings added a rich color to foods. Carrots, pomegranates, berries, grapes, spinach, marigold and turmeric were just a few of the food coloring agents used. At some point, natural food colorings became too expensive to process and were supplanted by synthetic dyes, which are a fraction of the cost, have a longer shelf life and are more vibrant in color. As early as 1856, William Henry Perkin discovered the first synthetic organic dye, called mauve, to color foods, drugs and cosmetics. From there, the food dye revolution had begun and they were used to color everything as they discovered richer colors attract more sales.

The FDA has banned dyes deemed very unsafe and only nine are currently GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe). In Europe, lawmakers now require food with artificial colors to be labeled with a warning stating the food “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” We aren’t there yet, but as consumers become more aware of the reactions, especially in children, they are making better choices. 

Enjoy this great frosting piled high on your favorite treats and know that you are treating your body well.  

If the idea of switching to natural food coloring peaks your interest, there are a few companies that now sell them in bottles online or at stores such as Whole Foods. While the colors may not be as vibrant, your body will surely thank you. For the sugar cookies we mentioned in the beginning of the article, I would love to share a natural beet-colored frosting recipe you can try! 


Beautiful Beet Red Frosting 

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened  
  • 8 ounces (1 brick) cream cheese, softened 4 to 5 cups powdered sugar, sifted  
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated beets, mashed with a fork 
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract  
  • 1-2 teaspoons milk, depending on desired consistency 
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice 
  • pinch of salt  

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, beat cream cheese for 30 seconds, until pliable and smooth. Add butter and beat for another 

30 seconds, until well-combined. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl as necessary. Beat in the beets. Add the powdered sugar, vanilla extract, milk, lemon juice and salt. Beat on medium speed until smooth and silky. Refrigerate the frosting for 30 minutes before using. 


— Sara Lemons Vaules is the founder of Lemon and Light, which offers consulting, products and strategies for moving with ease into an organic, chemical-free lifestyle.