This Plant-Based Food Dye Makes My Holiday Cookies Come Out Grocery-Store Bright

The powders in action. Photo: Chloe Anello

A staple memory from my childhood is of class holiday parties in which one parent would throw caution (and nutrition) to the wind and bring boxes of Lofthouse cookies in. We’d devour those cakelike vehicles for overly sugary, Pepto-pink frosting — irresistible to any 8-year-old, of course — leaving piles of crumbs all over our festive cocktail napkins.

While those were fine when I didn’t care about vitamins or know what a macro was, I now crave something a little less artificial — or not artificial at all. I’ve found ways to make gluten-free cookie dough (I’m gluten-intolerant) and lower-sugar frosting, but finding a better-for-you alternative to food dye has always stumped me. I tried making my own, which was too time consuming, and the store-bought options I tested either didn’t have significantly different ingredients than artificial dyes or were too limited in their color ranges. Then one day, while scrolling through a gluten-free food blogger’s site, I read that she used Suncore powders because she, too, wanted an alternative to artificial dye. I was intrigued by the ingredients (or lack thereof) and all the color options, so I bought some.

A piped buttercream flower colored with Suncore powders. Photo: Chloe Anello

Unlike most commercially available food dyes, Suncore comes in powdered form instead of a liquid or gel. The company offers nearly two dozen colors made from a single ingredient such as yam, blue spirulina, prickly pear, and hibiscus. But you don’t taste whatever the dye is made of — it’s pretty much just a color.

I started with the lilac taro powder to color a frosting made with culinary lavender, which notoriously leaves an unappetizing gray tint. The powder made my frosting a charming light purple, completely masking the muddled dusty shade it had been. After that, I threw the same color into a French buttercream for my boyfriend’s grandmother’s birthday cake. Since then, I’ve tried out nearly the entire array of powders to make more cakes, to pipe flowers onto vanilla cupcakes, and most recently, to decorate sugar cookies — all of which came out successfully.

The instructions say to use one teaspoon, which is enough for small amounts of frosting and batter. But with larger batches, I need quite a lot more, approximately one and a half to two tablespoons for the batter of an eight-inch cake. Regardless, everything comes out just as vibrant as it would with an artificial dye, and even with the additional powder, the texture isn’t impacted. And because Suncore has so many shades to choose from, I don’t have to go through the hassle of mixing to get exactly what I want anymore. (I recommend buying the sample bundles if you want a lot of shades.) The full-size bags are resealable for easy storage, while the samples are not — I close those with bag clips, though, and it’s been just fine. I like it so much I’ve even started coloring more mundane things like waffles or smoothies just because it’s more fun to eat a hot pink waffle than a plain one.

A nonprofessional checkerboard cake. Photo: Chloe Anello

I’ve recommended this food coloring to all my health-conscious friends, especially those who are parents, and all have given it rave reviews. One friend even said it was easier to use than liquid dye with her 5-year-old niece because handing a squeeze bottle to a child with no self-control can be a disaster in the making. But with Suncore, all you need is one scoop, and with a few stirs, your frosting will turn into shades of hot pink, electric blue, or sunny orange — just as bright as you remember.

And some more colors

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This Natural Food Dye Gives Me Grocery-Store-Bright Cookies