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What makes some formulas of food coloring, like AmeriColor, heat-safe and other formulas, like Wilton's icing color, not? For that matter, ground beets, beet juice or extract, and maraschino cherry juice are sometimes used in baked goods to provide red color. I do notice that the beet color does change (raw beets are cooler-colored than beet-colored cookies) and that maraschino cherry liquid is often artificially colored itself; however, they do seem more colorfast than reduced red juices, which begin to oxidize before the dough even bakes. Would it be possible to make a non-heat-safe dye heat-safe at home?

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Nothing makes them heat-safe, that's how they are.

There are many different molecules which can have a given color. Each of them has its own structure and chemical properties. A food chemist creating a food coloring has to choose his molecules for a ton of different properties, like safety, stability over time, stability in the pH range commonly found in food, heat stability, solubility in water, alcohol and fat, supply, difficulty of processing, cost effectiveness, legal status, non-reactivity with other dyes (to create a mixed color) etc. etc. It is much easier to work if one of those constraints - heat stability - is removed from the equation.

Wilton's icing colors tend to be used by professionals who want a very wide palette to choose from, have additional requirements on quality, and are specialized enough to use these colors only in icing. This is different from, say, Dr. Oetker customers, who buy a few basic colors and have fun with their kids with them. So Wilton has no need for heat stability for this product, and does not constrain their food chemists to make products which comply to it.

You cannot make colors heat stable at home, no more than you can keep butter from being liquid at 100 Celsius. It is a basic physical property of the matter you are working with. And yes, most pigments including betalains (in red beets) and anthocyanins are very heat unstable. Carotenoids tend to hold up the best, but I can't think of an example for using lightly processed carotenoid-colored plants (e.g. juiced) to color sweet baked goods. You could try something like making your own annatto if you have a source for the raw fruit and the taste fits your food and you don't mind using a time-consuming process, but it is not clear how this is superior to buying ready made annatto as a condiment, or even just buying the coloring and skipping the "has its own taste" part.

In the end, making dyes at home is difficult, the results are usually unpredictable and rarely have all qualities people are looking for in dyes. If you want to color your food, commercial dyes work better. If you don't trust those, you are very limited in the results you can achieve.

  • I'm aware that heatfastness is a basic chemical property, but what comes in a package of food dye is not always a single chemical compound. Is heatfastness imparted by the specific combinations of rings and ions in the suspended dye (if liquid)? Does the suspending material (alcohol, gum) provide protection against color change? – Tranquilled Sep 3 '17 at 17:39
  • Yes, it would be due to the structure of the molecule. I don't know of any suspending material that provides protection, and I can't imagine a mechanism for this happening - once you use the dye, it is suspended in cake batter, no longer in the binding from the tube. – rumtscho Sep 3 '17 at 17:57

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