Can You Substitute Icing Color for Food Coloring in Baking?


Icing colors have long been used to create vivid shades of cake frostings, but they're also the best choice for coloring baked goods. The gel types generally come in squeeze-tip bottles, while the paste types come in small, cylindrical bottles. Squeeze the gel-type bottles to use them. To use paste type coloring, dip a toothpick in the jar to get a tiny bit of coloring. Stir it into your baked good and use a clean toothpick if you need more. When used and stored properly, these colorings can last for years, simplifying any baking project.

Food Coloring 101

  • There are three basic types of food coloring used in baking. Widely available in grocery stores, liquid food coloring usually comes in packages of four basic colors. Gel coloring is available at cake decorating stores or through online vendors. These semi-liquid colors come in a variety of shades and combine easily with frosting and baked goods. Paste coloring is also found in cake decorating and craft stores. This product has the most intense color of all. Just a bit usually does the job. Paste coloring comes in a rainbow of shades.

Why Switch

  • Liquid food coloring works well for dying Easter eggs or children's play dough, but it can be problematic in baking. If you want a vivid color in a cake or bread, such as red velvet cake, you'll need a lot of liquid food coloring to get the results you want. This additional liquid can alter the chemistry of the baked good. Additionally, it's hard to create subtle shades of color with liquid food coloring. In frosting, it's almost impossible to get the exact shades you want with liquid food coloring. Both gel and paste icing colors offer a wider range of colors and need just a bit to be effective. They cost more at the outset, but last an exceptionally long time because the color is so intense.

Making a Change

  • If you want to use icing colors in baking, add the icing color to the wet ingredients before you mix in the dry ingredients or knead it into bread dough. This will prevent streaks and help you achieve uniform results. Add just a bit of coloring at a time because it's easy to overdo it. In baked goods that contain flour, add more coloring than you think you need because the flour will dilute the color's intensity. If you want to make a secondary shade, such as burnt orange, add the primary color -- orange -- first. Then add just a bit of the secondary color, such as brown or red. Slowly add a little more of the secondary color until the shade is right.

Potential Pitfalls

  • Paste and gel colors are easy to use, but they can leave vivid stains on skin, clothing and surfaces. Wear an apron when working and cover the countertop with a piece of aluminum foil or a towel. If you get a stain on your skin, wash the area with soap and water. The color will fade within a day or two. Soak stained clothing in bleach, if the clothing is bleach safe, and then launder it. Colors that contain Red 3 come out better if you soak the stained article in vinegar or lemon juice. Always add icing color to a baked good or frosting in broad daylight, so you can accurately assess the color. Remember, these colors sometimes intensify in buttercream icing, but may fade in royal icing or boiled icing.

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