The question of putting food coloring in cakes and icings has been around for a long time, but it’s more of a concern now because of food sensitivities and generally wanting to avoid additives.
When I made wedding cakes, I avoided using food coloring in my baked goods if I could, but I didn’t sacrifice flavor.
If you squeeze a lime, what color is the juice? It’s not bright green.
So why would you think that a lime cake should be green?
If lime juice or oil is used to flavor the batter, it isn’t going to change the color of the cake unless food coloring is also involved.
Same goes for strawberry, lemon, orange, and any other number of cake flavors.
The bright colors that people associate with those flavors come directly from food colorings, not from the natural flavorings that come from the fruit itself.
(For an article about using food coloring in cake batter, click here.)
Should you dye buttercream?
Look at these two buttercreams.
One is unflavored Italian meringue, the other is lemon.
It has both lemon curd and lemon juice in it.
They look remarkably similar, don’t they?
Now, if I had taken yellow food coloring and added it to the one on the left, you might think that was the lemon one. But no, the one on the right is lemon.
So what’s a scratch baker to do?
I know that a lot of people use jello to flavor their cakes, which would give you the fluorescent color that people associate with laffy taffy and other candy flavors.
I only use natural flavorings though, so they don’t usually include food colorings.
Well, I don’t do anything. I just make sure that the cake tastes like what it is.
Strawberry cakes might be a little pinker than usual because of the strawberries that are in the batter, but they don’t look like dayglow cotton candy.
My lime cakes aren’t green at all, but you can rest assured that they taste like limes.
I know that “people eat with their eyes first” but I’m not willing to add food coloring to something just to make people think they’re eating a specific flavor.
To tell the truth, many bland cakes have food coloring in them to make people think they taste more like what they’re supposed to be, even if they really don’t.
I’ll stick to making cakes using the actual natural ingredients, and if people are confused by that then the grocery store is down the road.
You can get an artificially-flavored, food-dyed jello cake with no butter in it there if that’s what you prefer.
But I guarantee that the lemon buttercream would have made you cry for more, even if it wasn’t lemon yellow.