Food coloring can be added to food for a variety of reasons and is used to enhance the natural color of a dish as well as to introduce decorative color to one. The latter is particularly true in baking, where you might want to tint a frosting for a birthday cake or get a truly red shade on your red velvet cake. Everyone is going to have their own preference on whether they like to use food coloring in their home baking or not. For most of us – including myself, as I like a bit of bright color now and again! – food safe dyes are only very occasionally used to begin with and putting a few drops in a batch of Rainbow Cupcakes isn’t a big cause for concern. For those who prefer to use all natural ingredients whenever possible, there are plenty of options for all natural food colorings out there that mean that you don’t have to miss out on those cupcakes, either!
All natural food colorings are generally made with dyes extracted from primarily plant sources, using an extract from turmeric or saffron for a yellow color, for instance. Some of these are also used in standard food colorings, which do use both synthetic and natural colors. They can be difficult to find at conventional markets, but they are often stocked at stores such as Whole Foods and Sur La Table, as well as other specialty food or baking stores. These natural dyes are often more expensive than regular dyes, but like the regular coloring, they will keep for quite some time. India Tree is one brand that produces very good, all natural dyes made from plant sources and it is available several places online as well as in the stores mentioned above. They also make sanding sugars and other decorative products. Other companies (I’ve really only used India Tree, myself) include Nature’s Flavor and Chefmaster.
Feel free to leave notes about your favorite brands in the comments if they haven’t been mentioned here!