How to Make Black Food Coloring

For Halloween baking szn and beyond.

October 10, 2022

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Black Cocoa Cake Doughnuts

Black Cocoa Cake Doughnuts

Photo by: Teri Lyn Fisher

Teri Lyn Fisher

By Jessie Sheehan and Amanda Neale for Food Network Kitchen

Jessie Sheehan is a baker and cookbook author.

Amanda is a recipe developer at Food Network.

Black food coloring comes in scarily handy when Halloween baking. Who doesn’t want to bake up a fluffy, black layer cake or cupcakes frosted in jet-black buttercream? Although it is possible to occasionally find black food dye in the grocery store, the little pack of four different colors of food dye that we all know and love certainly doesn’t include it (or orange, for that matter). Never fear, we’re going to share how to tint your baked goods black with natural ingredients, as well as by combining three different shades of ready-made food dyes. Homemade black food coloring is most definitely in your immediate future and for that, all we can say is...BOO!

How to Make Black Food Coloring with Natural Ingredients

Ingredients for Making Natural Black Food Coloring

Black cocoa powder, a Dutch processed cocoa powder that’s heavily alkalised, can tint baked goods a true, deep shade of black. A good example? Hershey’s Special Dark. You may have to buy black cocoa powder from a specialty baking store, but it is worth it to keep on hand, as it lasts a long time. Keep in mind that cocoa powder is best used in frostings or fondant, as opposed to cake batter – unless the cake already calls for cocoa powder, in which case you can substitute black cocoa for the regular. Like other Dutch processed cocoa powders, this is beautifully bitter in flavor and unsweetened, so make sure to add other sweeteners in your baked goods for a balance of flavor. If you need some recipes to get you started, try these Black Cocoa Cake Doughnuts (see top of article) or this Black Chocolate Cake (see photo above) for this year’s Halloween festivities. For more info on how to use cocoa powder in Halloween desserts, mosey over to our story You Won't Believe the Secret Ingredient in this Scary Chocolate Cake.

The red team's Squid Ink Risotto is displayed, as seen on Worst Cooks in America Halloween Special.

The red team's Squid Ink Risotto is displayed, as seen on Worst Cooks in America Halloween Special.

Photo by: Jason DeCrow

Jason DeCrow

You can also use squid ink as a black food coloring. Squid ink (or cephalopod ink) is a dark, blue-ish back ink that's stored in a squid's ink sac and is released to deter predators. Squid ink is a great option for savory dishes, such as Antonia Lofaso’s Black Squid Ink Tempura Fish and Chips and Anne Burrell’s Squid Ink Risotto (see photo above), because it's very briney and loaded with umami flavor, which pairs perfectly with seafood and pasta. It is not the best option for baking something sweet, or for vegetarians. You can purchase squid ink from fish markets and specialty grocery stores in a small, refrigerated container, which makes it convenient for storing.

Photo by: Photograph by Mike Garten

Photograph by Mike Garten

Black sesame grows inside pods in tropical climates around the world. It’s similar to its counterpart, the beige-colored sesame seed, but differs in taste — it’s more toasty and pleasantly bitter. This makes it a favorite for chefs around the world, particularly in Asia, where it is mainly produced. This incredibly versatile ingredient is often used in marinades for meat throughout Korea and Japan. It can be seen coating a roll of sushi, sprinkled on your bagel or in salad dressing. But its most popular use is in slightly sweet desserts throughout Asia. In Japan, black sesame or kurogama, is used to flavor and color their famous soft-serve ice cream, similar to this Black Sesame Ice Cream (see photo above) from Food Network Kitchen. It’s also used to coat and flavor mochi, a glutinous rice cake popping up in dessert aisles of American supermarkets. For those with a sweet tooth, you can use black sesame powder to dye neutral colors, like cupcake batter, frosting or meringue. For an even easier use in your own kitchen, simply crush the sesame and sprinkle it over ice cream for a perfectly toasty, bitter topping.

Step-By-Step Instructions for Making Natural Black Food Coloring:

  1. Begin with a white frosting base. Start with a snowy white canvass. Don’t start with say, red frosting, which will mix with your dye and turn brownish instead of black.
  2. Add the dye little by little. Use a little dye at a time until the desired color is achieved.

How to Make Black Food Coloring with Ready-Made Dye

Ingredients for Making Black Food Coloring with Ready-Made Dye

To make black food coloring with off-the-shelf food dyes, you can use a combination of red, blue, and green food coloring. Gel food coloring is more saturated and intense than liquid, so if you can find that, it will make your black that much . . . scarier.

Additionally, gel food coloring is sold in black, so if you can find that, snag it and cut out some extra steps. There are a variety of brands, including Wilton and McCormick, that make black-colored food coloring in both a liquid and gel consistency. Black food gel will allow you to achieve a true black color much quicker than liquid food coloring (just a couple drops will do!). Both products are pretty widely available at baking/craft stores and online.

Step-By-Step Instructions for Making Black Food Coloring with Ready-Made Dye

  1. Combine the ready made dyes. Start by combining blue, red, and green dyes in equal amounts.
  2. Add additional drops of red and green. You will likely need to add additional drops of red and green (a bit more red than green) to reach a truly inky black.

Photo by: Bhofack2/Getty Images

Bhofack2/Getty Images

What to Never Use to Make Black Food Coloring

You’ve maybe seen cocktails, smoothies and juice bars using activated charcoal — creating beautifully black beverages. However, it might not be the best to consume in large quantities, as it can react negatively to some medications. There’s even some evidence that it can cause digestive issues. Activated charcoal is a charcoal made in the presence of gas, which gives the charcoal pores that can trap chemicals. Charcoal can be made from wood, peat, and commonly, coconut shells. All in all, it’s hard to judge exactly how your body will process the charcoal, so it’s best to consume sparingly so you don’t have an adverse reaction. Lets leave this product behind and opt for one of the other safer options mentioned above!

Recipes with Black Food Coloring

Here are a couple recipes we love showing black food coloring in action.

Another option for achieving black color in sweet treats? Starting with black candy melts.

This festive twist on black and white cookies – black and orange cookies – get their “black” color from cocoa powder.

Easy Ghost Cake

Easy Ghost Cake

Photo by: Teri Lyn Fisher

Teri Lyn Fisher

In this cake, black gel food coloring is used for the mouth and eyes, but if you don’t have any, you can make your own with a little black cocoa powder, or with a combo of red, blue, and green premade food coloring.


Photo by: Levi Brown

Levi Brown

This cauldron cake may look fancy, but it starts with boxed chocolate cake mix. The devil’s in the decorations!

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