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35 mins

James Wong's Homegrown Revolution
Create a living paint box of botanical food dyes in every colour of the rainbow – from deep red and vibrant green to rich purple and even shocking blue. These pigments are not only all natural, but in many cases powerful antioxidants capable of turning cake into ‘superfood’.
Well, almost!

Posted by Orion Books Published See Orion Books's 81 projects » © 2023 James Wong · Reproduced with permission.
  • How to make a dyeing. Dyeing With Natural Colours - Step 1
    Step 1

    Ruby red
    For a rich ruby colour, peel and slice a couple of scarlet beetroots (not the purple supermarket kind) and run them through a juicer. Good varieties to go for include:

    • ‘Detroit 2’
    • ‘Pablo’

    Alternatively, beetroot can also be grated and popped in a pan with two thirds of its volume of water, simmered for 20 minutes and strained to extract their scarlet colour (or fresh juice). A tablespoon of the simmered liquid can be added to any recipe to create a deep ruby hue; with just a drop or two enough to give a pale pastel pink. This quantity is so small and the earthy beetroot flavour so mild that it will be completely imperceptible in cakes, pastas and even dyed eggs at Easter.

  • How to make a dyeing. Dyeing With Natural Colours - Step 2
    Step 2

    Hot pink
    In Japan, purple leaves of Japanese beefsteak plant have been used for hundreds of years to create a brilliant fuchsia tint in all sorts
    of savoury dishes. All you need to do is:

    • Take 20 large purple leaves, chop them finely and pop them into a
    saucepan with a squeeze of lemon juice to bring out the colour.

    • Add about 125ml water. Bring to the boil and then remove from the heat and leave to cool.

    • Press the leaves through a sieve to extract the bright pink liquid. You can now use it in everything from a savoury pancake batter to making pink homemade pasta dough.

    For sweet dishes and desserts, try using the juice of a few raspberries, pressed through a sieve with the back of a spoon to remove the seeds or a drop or two of beetroot juice (scarlet varieties will give you a powder pink, while regular supermarket ones will give you an altogether more disco hue).

  • How to make a dyeing. Dyeing With Natural Colours - Step 3
    Step 3

    Yellow & orange
    Although turmeric is the cheaper alternative when adding a golden
    shade to a broad range of dishes, it is both inferior in flavour and far
    harder to grow in the UK than the rich, luxuriousness of homegrown
    saffron threads.

    To get the most out of homegrown saffron threads:

    • Toast a generous pinch of threads (about ten) over a medium heat in a dry frying pan for a minute or two until they lightly crisp up.

    • Transfer to a pestle and mortar and grind to a fine powder.
    A pinch or two of this golden dust will not only infuse a sunny yellow
    and orange hue to dishes but will even transform any pallid dish into a deliciously warm golden hue.

  • How to make a dyeing. Dyeing With Natural Colours - Step 4
    Step 4

    Electric blue
    If you fancy taking shocking food colours to the next level there is no
    better candidate than the electric-blue hue provided by the butterfly
    pea (Clitorea ternatea), a pretty garden climber with an unfortunately
    anatomical Latin name (take one look at the flowers and you will know why). In South-East Asia the dried flowers are used to dye all manner of cakes, rice dishes and cookies by simmering the flowers in the cooking liquid or brewing them up into a strong tea that is added to any recipe.

    To have a go at growing butterfly pea:

    • Lightly knick the coat of each seed with a nail file and sow them on the surface of a tray of free-draining seed compost, covering them with a layer of vermiculite.

    • To kick start germination place the tray in a plastic bag or heated
    propagator. Site plants in the warmest, sunniest location available
    outdoors after all risk of frost has passed, but for the very best results grow in a conservatory and spoil with weekly lashings of a dilute highpotash fertiliser.

  • How to make a dyeing. Dyeing With Natural Colours - Step 5
    Step 5

    Jade green
    The chlorophyll in many types of leaves can be extracted and used as a bright green food pigment. One of the best candidates I have found for this is New Zealand spinach for its intensity of colour and ease to extract. Either run a cupful of leaves and tender stalks through a juicer or whizz them in a food processor and
    press the resultant mulch through a sieve to extract a rich, dark green juice. Alternatively for a lighter green tint coupled with a sweet buttery flavour, try using vanilla grass leaves or matcha powder
    made from homegrown green tea.

  • How to make a dyeing. Dyeing With Natural Colours - Step 6
    Step 6

    Chocolate-wrapper purple
    The shiny, jet-black fruit of huckleberries produce the deepest, darkest purple I have ever seen, which becomes even more intensified on cooking. Just half a teaspoon of the cooked
    berries or jam made from huckleberries is enough to turn the colour of any icing, cake, jelly or mousse a rich burgundy.
    Oregon grapes were once used by Native Americans as clothing dye.
    A simple spoonful or two of their jelly will give you the most potent
    E-number free purple colouring.

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