It seems the more we, as a society, become aware at how artificial dyes and chemically engineered food additives, preservatives and flavorings affect us, the more we seek to live an organic and natural lifestyle.

In my line of business, I get asked all the time, “Is this organic?” As the saying goes, we are what we eat from our head to our feet.

Vegetable (or fruit) plant dyes have been around since ancient times and are enjoying a comeback as more and more of us try to filter out the use of synthetic products. There are so many amazing colors in food.

To share just a few examples, strawberries and raspberries can make pink; beets can make red; saffron and turmeric can make yellow; matcha and spinach can make green; coffee, tea and cocoa make brown; and then black can be made from activated charcoal or squid ink.

But, be aware, because the color comes from real food ingredients, a small amount of flavor will remain, so you should consider how that will pair with your dish.

Natural food coloring powders are the easiest way to make do-it-yourself food colorings versus concentrated liquids. Powders dissolve easily and are somewhat concentrated, meaning they can lead to more intense color. If you can’t find the fruit or vegetable you need in powdered form, you can purchase freeze-dried fruits and vegetables and pulverize them to a fine powder in a food processor or spice grinder.

I share with you this decadent recipe for red velvet cupcakes where beet root powder provides a natural red color. The use of cocoa helps subdue the beet’s natural earthy flavor. And the powder, incorporated into a cupcake, is a way to get a serving of vegetables without even knowing it.

¼ cup beet root powder

¼ cup natural cocoa

2-1/2 teaspoons Madagascar pure vanilla extract, divided

2-3/4 cups cake flour

1-1/2 cups white sugar

1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled

¼ cup canola oil

2 teaspoons white vinegar

3 large eggs

8-ounce block of cream cheese, at room temperature

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups powdered sugar

½ ounce dried rose petals (optional)

PREHEAT oven to 350 degrees F and line cupcake pan with paper liners. WHISK together cake flour, white sugar, beet root powder, natural cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in medium mixing bowl. Set aside.

COMBINE buttermilk, melted butter, canola oil, vinegar, 1-1/2 teaspoons Madagascar pure vanilla extract and eggs in a bowl. Blend with electric mixer on medium-high until well incorporated. ADD dry mixture to wet mixture in two additions, mixing at medium speed until lumps are removed.

SPOON batter into prepared cupcake pan, transfer to oven and bake until toothpick inserted into center of cupcake comes out clean, about 15-20 minutes. Remove pan from oven, and let cool completely.

MAKE ICING: Place cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl and beat using an electric mixer on high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes.

ADD remaining Madagascar pure vanilla extract and mix until incorporated. Slowly add powdered sugar 1 cup at a time and mix on low until well blended 1-2 minutes. ONCE cupcakes have cooled, remove from pan and spread or pipe frosting on top. Optional: lightly dust cupcakes with dried rose petals for an additional touch.

Yield: 16 cupcakes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook: 20 minutes

Jennifer Asbury, and mom, Cindy Wright, are co-owners of The Spice and Tea Exchange of Guilford. Their shop specializes in custom spice blends mixed in-house, teas, salts, sugars, peppers, herbs and spices. They are located at 80 Whitfield St. in Guilford. You can reach them at 203-453-0022 or online at

Connecticut Media Group