Thursday, April 12, 2012

Fruity Icing Recipe

Since I avoid any artificial food coloring or dyes in our foods, I have had to get creative when it comes to birthday cake. Last year, we did pink cakes for both my girls. I came up with an icing concoction that tasted really good and also turned out a very pretty pink. 

A few weeks ago, my youngest turned the big 2 years old! Since The Very Hungry Caterpillar is one of her favorite books, we decided on that theme. Which meant needing green and red cupcakes…without food dye. 

 The basic concept behind this icing is butter, powdered sugar, and the juice or puree from fruit as your coloring and liquid for the frosting. Pink is a pretty easy color to achieve because you could use fruits like raspberries, cherries, or strawberries, to name a few. I haven’t tried purple yet but blueberries or blackberries would be perfect I think. But green? What do you use for green?! I’m sure at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s they have a dye free food coloring but I could find nothing of the sort at our one and only health food store or at Kroger. I thought about a mint paste or mint jelly but didn't find that either. I ended up trying lime zest and mashed kiwi for the green.

For the red color, I used organic frozen mixed berries (strawberry, raspberry, blackberry mix). I like the flecks of color you get by using the fruit pureed or mashed but in retrospect, I don't care for raspberry or blackberry seeds in my icing. So I would recommend just squeezing the juice out of these fruits (by using a strainer, cheesecloth, or coffee filter). In the end, the green was not as "green" as I was picturing and this is what our hungry little birthday caterpillar looked like:
Not exactly what I had envisioned BUT they were delicious, {semi} healthier, and the kids were happy. Ok, now that you have the background info, here is the good stuff - how you actually make the icing. 

Begin with:
2/3 cup room temperature butter
2-3 cups confectioners sugar, plus more as needed for desired thickness
Fruit in desired colors (Ideas: pink - see above; red - was thinking I should have tried cherry juice or fresh cherries, beet puree or juice; purple/lavendar - blueberries, blackberries; orange or yellow - pureed sweet potato or pumpkin). A few fruits like banana and avocado turn brown unless tossed with something acidic like lemon juice. Acidic foods curdle when mixed with dairy products so you have to be careful when mixing certain fruit combinations with butter or milk. 

Cream butter, add sugar and beat until smooth. Add fruit puree or juice, mix well, and add confectioner's sugar as needed to achieve the desired thickness of icing. This made about 2 cups of icing.

Both flavors of icing were delicious and the cupcakes themselves were very good and moist. I think my big, grown-up 2 year old liked them.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

All the colors of the rainbow

I like things to be colorful (even though I always end up buying a white shirt on the rare occasion I go shopping for new clothes...seriously, I can't stop buying them). It makes our homes look bright, flowers to be beautiful, and keeps things from looking blah. Isn't there a saying, "we eat with our eyes first," about having a colorful plate of food? A glance down the rows of produce and it is literally a rainbow of colors. But so is a bowl full of Fruit Loops. Take note: NOT all colorful foods are created equally!

(Can you see the world's shortest rainbow? We spotted this the other morning in front of our house.)

FDA approved food dyes: Blue No. 1, Blue No. 2, Green No. 3,
Red No. 3, Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5, Yellow No. 6. 

Artificial food dye/coloring has seen a huge jump in use in the United States. Hardly surprising since our culture places so much value on the appearance of things. You can look at a bag of Skittles and obviously determine there is some food coloring involved. Did you know there is also food coloring in varieties of pickles, marshmallows, crackers/bread, oatmeals, canned beans, and many other unexpected foods? My first thought when I see food coloring being used in something as basic as beans is, "what did this look like before to require the use of dye???" I find it a bit sketchy...

What does it matter about food coloring and dyes? Dyes are derived from petroleum (yum!) and some colors contain cancer causing contaminates. Don't worry though, the FDA has set legal limits to the amounts that can be in the dye. Whew, that's a relief.... The bigger and more well known health concern with dyes has been the link to hyperactivity. I read an article once talking about the negative effects of dye and it said if you were wondering if your child was sensitive to dye, put 3 drops of red food coloring (like you use for baking) under your child's tongue and see if they experience any behavioral changes. I was never bored enough to try such an experiment but if anyone out there feels so inclined to do so, please do share how it goes :-) If you do have a child that is sensitive to food dyes, this website has more info, a place to file a report of their sensitivity, and to petition the government to ban food dyes.

Other than hyperactivity, cancer in animal studies (in a few of the dyes such as Yellow No. 5), and allergies to, there is not much else that poses huge, harmful affects from eating foods with dye. For me, I like to avoid foods that contain dyes if at all possible because they have become SO common in foods today and it is just one other chemical I would like to keep out of our family's systems. I have to come clean though and admit I can put down a bag of peanut butter M&Ms (or almond...or pretzel...or pretty much any variety M&Ms come in), which is why I only buy them occasionally :-). It is pretty easy to find food products that use natural coloring from things such as carrots and beets. The one thing I have to hunt for is vitamins! Almost every brand of chewable vitamins contains dye. I have found a brand of Disney vitamins (in princess shapes no less) and a Kroger brand that did not contain dye.

There really is no purpose or benefit to food dyes. It is used to make foods look more appealing or as a cover up. For instance, have you ever looked at the strawberry flavored instant oatmeal? Those bits of red "strawberries" are actually dried apple bits colored red (doesn't that Quaker guy know lying is wrong!?). Another reason I prefer dye-free is just to follow the concept of eating real food, the way God created it. You can't get much more bright and colorful than a juicy red watermelon, bright green kiwi, white and orange pumpkins, colorful peppers, or that yellow funny looking fruit with the spikes on idea what that is but one day I am going to try it.

So there are my thoughts on food coloring. Stay tuned for the next post on my recipes for colored icing that don't use any food coloring. You can not have little girls and not give them pretty pink birthday cakes now can you?

For more information and an in-depth study on the health effects of food dye, see Food dyes: A rainbow of risks.