Today more than ever, we live on fast and processed food. We get caught up in the convenience, the simplicity, the ease, the attractiveness and tend to easily disregard the nutritional value and the hidden dangers that go with all of these. From evil fast food to some “healthy” foods, to juices or candies, to cheese and yogurt, even to vitamin water – they all look yummy thanks to the wide use of food colourings. However, the vibrant, bright colours pose a real threat to our health – because the artificial colourings used in the food industry are derived mainly from petroleum and/or coal tar and most of them also contain a number of metals.
Numerous studies link artificial food colourings to serious health problems, such as asthma, skin rashes, hives and especially in kids – digestive problems, hyperactivity, mild to severe allergic reactions, moodiness and drastic changes in behaviour. Even though a lot of studies present conflicting information and the long-term effects on our health are still uncertain, food colourings are definitely a serious concern and they have been banned in a number of countries around the world. The Scandinavian countries, Switzerland, Germany, Australia, Great Britain and many more have kicked out the colours.
Oddly enough, at the same time, nature offers a wide variety of safe options for colouring food. Vivid colours are all around us; it only takes some know-how and creativity to use them. Natural colourings are easy to prepare. In most cases it is a matter of extracting the juice or boiling parts of a fruit or vegetable and then using the liquid. If you don’t have the time or desire to make your own, buy a natural version.
What colours can you get simply and from what?
- Red: It can be obtained from a number of fruit and vegetables, such as pomegranate, black grapes, raspberries, beets, red onions skins.
- Yellow: You can get different shades of this basic colour from ground turmeric or cumin, orange and lemon peels, celery seed.
- Orange: Use carrot juice, yellow onion skins, paprika. You can also mix red and yellow to get a nice orange shade.
- Green: For a more pastel shade, avocados are perfect; for stronger green colour your best choice is spinach.
- Blue: Blueberries give beautiful, intense shades of blue. Red cabbage involves a little more work, but you can better control the shades obtained. Red cabbage also comes with an added bonus – you start with a nice purple colour, so it is like 2-in-1 option.
- Purple: Blackberries are wonderful alternative to red cabbage and the work involved is much less.
When using natural food colours it is most important to keep in mind two simple things:
- Use colours derived from fruit or vegetables, depending on what kind of food are you going to colour. Naturally, fruit-derived colours are more appropriate for sweets and vegetable-derived colours are more appropriate for savory foods.
- Always taste as you colour to make sure you have the right balance between colour and flavour. Sometimes you will need neutral flavour and sometimes flavouring and colouring make a good marriage.
Here is recipe which will give you the opportunity to start practicing the use of natural food colourings. It is a lot of fun to prepare with kids, nutritious and quite elegant and impressive to serve. Last, but not least – you can make it educational.
For the crepes:
½ cup milk
½ cup water
1 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of baking soda
For the Green Filling:
200 g Ricotta cheese
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
2 cloves garlic
½ cup fresh dill
Salt to taste
For the Yellow Filling:
4 hard-boiled eggs
½ tbsp. mayonnaise
½ tbsp. 14% sour cream
½ tbsp. Dijon mustard
½ tsp. turmeric
1 celery stack, peeled and very finely chopped
Salt and black pepper to taste
For the Red Filling:
Use thick and smooth store bought vegetable spread.
Optional – mix in finely chopped ham
Crepes. Beat eggs and slowly add water. Add the baking soda to the flour and start slowly incorporating it with the egg mixture as you alternate flour and milk until you finish and have a smooth batter. Heat a non-stick pan, butter slightly and pour a ladle of the batter to coat the whole pan. Quickly you will see tiny bubbles – the crepe is ready to be flipped. Repeat until batter is finished. Set aside to cool.
Green Filling: In a food processor combine all ingredients and mix till you get smooth consistency.
Yellow Filling: Chop eggs, add the rest of the ingredients and mix very well with a fork.
.Assembly: Build a cake, alternating crepes, red, green and yellow filling. Use thin layers of the fillings because otherwise the cake will start sliding before you make it high enough. If your crepes are very thin you may want to use two per layer instead of one. Finish with a crepe and decorate depending on your taste and imagination. The green filling works best for covering the side of the torte. Black olives not only go well with the taste of the cake, but give a sharp contrast and are great for decoration.
Renata Shishkova is a mother and a grandmother, a writer and an artist from Toronto, Canada. She holds a Master’s degree and has a strong interest and background in nature, healthy living and wellness, and the challenges of parenting. You can read her insights at http://blog.kytephone.com
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