Guide to food colourings

Wednesday, October 1 2014

To help your cakes and sugarcraft look as fabulous as possible, we explore the many different food colours available, their properties and uses.

Liquid Food Colours

Suitable for use in royal icing, pouring fondant, pastillage, buttercream, glacé icing, jellies and so on. Liquid food colours can be used to paint directly onto sugar plaques for a clean, ‘watercolour’ effect (for more of a ‘poster paint’ colour finish use edible paints). They can also be used in an airbrush. If you’re using colours for royal icing work, make sure they don’t contain glucose or glycerides. Mix in the colour a couple of drops at a time to make sure you don’t add too much.

Top Tip: If you require a high-strength or dark colour, you can use a combination of liquid and dust colours to deepen the colour. Using too much liquid colour for darker shades will alter the consistency of the icing, so the dust colour balances it out.

Paste Food Colours

Use paste food colours to colour white paste or to change the shade of ready-coloured pastes including sugarpaste (roll-out icing/fondant), marzipan, flower paste, pastillage and pastry. Start by adding a tiny amount of your chosen paste food colour to the paste using a cocktail stick. Knead the colour into the paste until it is evenly blended. Repeat this process until you achieve the desired shade then leave the paste for at least half an hour so that the colour can mature. You can also dip a paintbrush into the neat colour to add strong definition to your work – this is particularly useful for adding markings to sugar petals and leaves, as well as painting cakes.

Top Tip: When strong or dark colours are required, the paste can become quite sticky due to the amount of colour being added. Counteract this problem by adding dust food colour in conjunction with the paste colour.

Dust Food Colours

Suitable for dusting dry sugar work such as marzipan, royal icing, pastillage and sugarpaste and brilliant for enhancing the colour of realistic sugar flowers or leaves. Dust food colours can be used with or without stencils to create soft backgrounds. Add dust food colours to clear alcohol to make a quick-drying paint or mix metallic dust colours with confectioners’ glaze to create a glossy finish. They can also be used to colour white chocolate. Always use dust food colours sparingly. After dipping a dry, flat paintbrush into the dust, rub the bristles on a piece of kitchen towel to remove the excess colour – this will give you more control when you apply the dust to the sugar surface. If you’re colouring sugar flowers or leaves, you may wish to pass it through the steam from a boiling kettle to set the colour and give a slightly shiny appearance. Allow to dry.

Top Tips: Catching the edges of flowers or leaves with a slightly darker colour than the paste is a particularly effective way of enhancing the colour. To lighten darker shades of dust food colour, mix them with white dust food colour. As more dust colour is brushed onto a flower or leaf, you will notice the paste will eventually stop absorbing the colour. When this happens, carefully pass the flower or leaf over the steam from a boiling kettle. Once it dries, you can apply more dust.

Edible Paint

Edible paint, including edible metallic paint, can be used to add detail or colour to chocolate, marzipan, pastries and sugars, such as facial features, as well as cake painting. You can simply use these colours in the same way as poster paints, acrylic paints or gouache. Top Tip: Edible paint can be used for decorating Easter eggs. You can even add liquid colour to the water when boiling the eggs to create a pretty pastel shade on the shells before painting them.

Food Pens

Food pens contain edible ink, which can be used to draw lines or dots onto sugar leaves and flowers, write a special message on celebration cakes and plaques, or mark facial features such as eyes. A fine paintbrush and liquid food colours may also be used for this purpose.

Finally, please make sure you use colours which are guaranteed edible and conform to your country’s directives for use in food. And most importantly, have fun with colour!


Know your colours