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101: Can I Color That? Your Guide to Food Coloring

Remember the excitement you had when you were just a lil bambino, getting a new set of pretty, sparkly jelly pens? As a young Sprinkle Snob in the making, those jelly pens were LIFE: I used them for notes, homework, practicing my Hot Girl Handwriting (iykyk), forging my mom’s signature on my report cards—it was a fun and easy way to infuse a little glamor into life.

I am here to tell you that Jelly Hues™ Food Coloring Gels are that girl when it comes to food coloring. Let’s be real, the stakes are higher as adults: nothing is worse than spending all afternoon working on your creation just for your color to separate, sweat off, or just not work.

But for purposes of education (and making my case), let's review the pros, cons, and best usage of the 4 different types of food coloring that you will find; those with a water base, an oil base, a powder base, and our queen, a gel base.


Let’s immediately rule out water-based food coloring. You may recognize these guys by the little cone hats and cheap price points that you find in the grocery store. Per its name, this type of food coloring has a super watery consistency, a really weak color, and very limited applications. The runny consistency will wick right off of most buttercreams, the pigment is too weak to color cake batters- personally, I wouldn’t even use it to dye Easter eggs. Simply put: it sucks.

Best applications: Literally nothing, throw it in the garbage

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Credit: GIPHY


Oil-based color is a specialized type of coloring formulated to work with chocolate and hard candy where adding water would affect the consistency of the mixture. My biggest gripe with oil pigments? The price: you’re paying big, big bucks for a teeny tiny bottle and since I’m NEVER making hard candy, and I’m rarely coloring my own chocolate (Easy Candy™ Melting Candy 4 life!), oil-based food coloring doesn’t get much airtime in my kitchen.

Fancy Tip: If you’re trying to color chocolate, oil is your only option. A water-based pigment will not emulsify with fatty ingredients—the science just ain’t sciencing on this one!

Best applications: Hard candy, chocolate

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Credit: GIPHY


Picture this: I’m burning the midnight oil, finishing a cake that requires black buttercream. I decide to try out a new brand of black powder pigment that cost $22 for a tiny pot. I follow the directions and mix it into my melted buttercream. The result? A speckled-looking MESS that is light gray, at best. I persevere and keep mixing, adding more color, and praying to the cake gods that it will turn black. I end up dumping the ENTIRE THING of powder into one measly batch of buttercream, and yet it still looked speckled. I surrender to defeat, throw it away, and vow to never stray from my trusty gels, again!

Look, I know that some bakers swear by powder for macarons, but when it comes to buttercream and batter, this stuff is not for me.

Best applications: Macarons (allegedly)


We’ve arrived at the last type of food pigment: gel based! When it comes to versatility, ease of use, vibrancy, and cost per squeeze, gel-based colors are undefeated. Although gel pigment is technically a water-based pigment, it bears no resemblance to the grocery store stuff.

Thick and packed with powerful color, gel pigments can be used in cake batter, pancake batter, cookies, all types of buttercream, royal icing, macarons, and basically just about anything.

Not all gel is created equally, though. When I first started decorating, I had a high-key traumatic episode with red food coloring. Turns out, some red pigment has a nasty taste to it, and I didn’t discover it until I was biting into the cake I made for my friend’s birthday *~*cue emotional damage*~*. THANKFULLY, Jelly Hues™ Food Coloring is completely taste free without sacrificing ANY of the vibrancy—catch me out here trust-falling into the dependable arms of Montreal Red.

The packaging of the pigment is important, too. Those annoying little pots of color can go to hell, because trying to get the color out of the pot and into my batter is straight up impossible. My gripe with the traditional bottles is that the color leaks onto the cap and, suddenly, I've tracked pink all over my kitchen. Oh—and they explode on airplanes—the inside of my suitcase looks like a Pollack. With Jelly Hues Food Coloring Gels, the squeeze bottle sucks back excess pigment right into the tube, saving me from a messy cleanup.

If you want a versatile pigment that you can use in lots of different ways, go with Jelly Hues Food Coloring Gels. She’s just really that girl.

Best Applications: All types of buttercream and frosting, cake and cupcake batter, pancake batter, cookie dough, royal icing, fondant, macarons, glazes, dips, cream cheese, milkshakes, waffles

If you want it bright, Jelly Hues Food Coloring Gels will take you there!

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