J.R. Watkins Launches A Natural Food Coloring Kit
In the movie, "Peggy Sue Got Married," Peggy Sue, played by Kathleen Turner, has gone back in time from her own 40-something life to revisit herself as a 17-year-old. In one scene that only people of a certain age can fully appreciate, Peggy Sue uses her time travel hindsight to warn her younger sister to avoid eating red M&Ms.
Food dyes, like the red dye #2 once infamously used in, and later banned from those M&Ms for its links to cancer, have had their reckoning. And for good reason. In all our foods, we now strive to avoid synthetic ingredients, no matter how toxic. Food science is getting better at finding ways to safely give us flavor and cooking solutions and as consumers, we're demanding it.
So when I was at the recent Fancy Food Show at Manhattan's Javits Center, where nearly 3,000 food producers were showcasing their wares, I was delighted to see a new all-natural food coloring kit from J.R. Watkins Co., the Minnesota manufacturer of food, spices, and home products since 1868.
The Watkins Natural Food Coloring Kit -- with four little bottles of red, blue, green and yellow colors -- lets us add pink to a birthday cake or pastels to Easter eggs, now without worry.
The food dyes Watkins uses are non-synthetic and instead made with 100 percent vegetable juices and spices, including beet juice for the red, turmeric for the yellow, and spirulina extract (made from a kind of algae) to create its green and blue colors. And they are FD&C dye free, another way of saying that there are no synthetics. Besides the vegetable juices and spices, other ingredients include glycerin, water, and citric acid. The red dye also includes a stabilizer.
This kit is a significant improvement over conventional food colors that had previously been the only choice available to home cooks. Its innovation coincides with changes finally being made at companies like Kraft, which recently took out the synthetic colors in their macaroni and cheese in response to consumer demands.
From the cook's perspective, the compromise from using vegetable juice instead of chemicals is that the natural colors are not quite as vivid or M&M-like as in the McCormick-type dyes you may have used. The Watkins red is more beet red, which I found reassuring since the company uses beets as the color source. And the blue is more a deep robin's egg blue than cobalt, a shade I would be most happy to have on my Easter eggs. I tested the dyes on Greek yogurt and found that if you want more intensity, you can simply add more drops.
The Watkins food coloring kit is gluten-free and it comes in a small box with four .3 fluid ounce plastic bottles, each with a dropper-like opening, making it easy to control the amount of color you want to add to your recipe.
The new J.R. Watkins Natural Food Coloring Kit was launched in April and is sold at Amazon, Target, in select grocers nationwide, and at their website for $8.99.