Wishing For A Naturally Green St. Paddy’s day? You’re In Luck!

Here we are just weeks after Valentine’s Day and winter holidays, and food coloring is yet again filling store “seasonal” aisles the world over.  If it’s not an opportunity to be Irish for a day, then it’s Easter.  Any excuse to eat candy, really (just ask Eddie Izzard). 

It is with a heavy heart, a good bit of irony, and another roll of the eye that I remind everyone – March is National Nutrition Month. (My eyes are so ripped – they work out a lot.)

Say what?  Who decided that?  I call blarney on this.

Like those bright orange slices of plasticky foodstuff we call American cheese, our country tends to take others’ traditions and make them irrevocably our own.  As with most “holidays” here, St. Paddy’s is rife with over-the-top customs.  The City Of Chicago is gearing up to dye the Chicago River bright “Irish” green (no fish for you!), and the federal government is making Chicago native and First Lady Michelle Obama’s wishes for green White House water fountains come true.  (By the way, the Chicago river artists wouldn’t answer me when I inquired whether they use FD&C dyes. All they said was that their formula is a secret and if it got out, then other places would want to copy them.  “Sorry, Tennessee!”).

As you may have guessed from the name of my blog, we avoid synthetic food dyes.  That is, we don’t eat, drink, wash, or medicate ourselves with anything containing petroleum-based colorings.  Our family puts our own twist on the numerous annual “Hallmark” observances, and last year we lived through our first all natural St. Paddy’s Day without incident.

But why mess with a good thing?  After all, folks have been been indulging in neon green foods and drinks – and then freaking themselves out with weird diagnoses on March 18th – for decades, right?

Because not all rainbows are lucky.  

One reading of “Food Dye: A Rainbow Of Risks” published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest will put you off your rainbow cake.  Synthetic food coloring has been associated with an array of ills including cancer, hyperactivity, attention deficit, migraines, stomach aches, tantrums, asthma, hives, eczema, aggression, mood swings, increased risky and impulsive behavior, sleep disturbances, learning problems, night terrors, seizures, handwriting problems, bed wetting, genotoxicity, and neurological disorders.

Yet here in America, your opportunity to taste the rainbow is endless!

But just because our Food and Drug Administration gave the green light on synthetic petroleum food coloring, doesn’t mean you should run out and bastardize Grandma’s velvet cake recipe in the name of Saint Patrick just yet, as tempting as that is.

The most commonly used synthetic green coloring in the US is Green 3 (Fast Green FCF).  According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Green 3 is a “synthetic dye approved for use in food, drugs, personal care products, and cosmetics except for in the area of the eye. It is one of the least-used dyes, but may be found in candies, beverages, dessert powders, ice cream, sorbet, and other foods, as well as ingested drugs, lipsticks, and externally applied cosmetics (FDA 1982a).”  Studies have shown that Green 3 is associated with bladder and testes tumors in rats.  

If you’ve kept up on the latest food color studies, then you know that unfortunately there’s no truly safe work-around by mixing yellow and blue synthetic dyes to make green, either.

Get Colorful Without Chemicals

But what about the children?!

How can they have ANY FUN without disodium 6-hydroxy-5-((2-methoxy-5-methyl-4-sulfophenyl)azo)-2-naphthalenesulfonate??!!

The cool thing about natural colorants is that they lend themselves to so many more teachable moments than the petroleum stuff.  Let your kids learn about agriculture, climate, measurements, math, following directions, food science, how matter changes with temperature, design, making plans, color theory, and kitchen safety.

Here are some ideas for naturally green recipes you can make at home:

I couldn’t resist sharing this video tutorial from a very happy sounding lady who uses pandan leaves for a bright green colorant.  Just try and not smile.

You can use spirulina powder for a great green color, and reap some added health benefits too.  Spirulina is considered a vegetarian source of complete protein, and rich with vitamins and nutrients.  Try it with this natural key lime Twinkies recipe (take that, Hostess! Oh…wait…).

Liquid chlorophyll lends a forest-green hue to drinks and Easter eggs without a noticeable after taste.  But be careful, as it stains kitchen surfaces and clothing.  And it’s perishable, so keep it refrigerated.

I like this recipe for green kale burgers that Randy H. passed my way.  

And these kale chips might pair nicely with the green burgers. 

Add spinach, powdered wheat grass, or Matcha green tea powder to eggs, drinks, yogurt, baked treats, and ice cream.

Try avocado in anything soft like frosting, or even a cheese ball recipe.  For light green frosting, mix 1/4 cup of any white icing with 1/4 of an avocado.  Here is another avocado frosting recipe using powdered sugar.  Or how about a lovely natural mint cupcake recipe that calls for agave syrup?

I absolutely MUST try this natural “shamrock shake” copycat recipe (thanks Katie L.) which has a couple of advantages over its McDonald’s counterpart – it’s cheaper, faster, and petroleum-free.

If you’d like to impress your drinking buddies with green brew, try dyeing it with any of the afore-mentioned substances (mine did well with liquid chlorophyll, with no weird taste).

My guilty pleasure is Whole Foods green apple Italian soda, which has a pretty, pale green color.

For more naturally green food ideas, see 21 Naturally Green Recipes for St. Patrick’s Day.  There are so many ways to serve up colorful nutrition this weekend with green fruits and vegetables.

If you don’t really have time to make colorants from scratch but still want to whip up something with visual appeal, order pre-packaged liquid natural dyes from India Tree, Seelect, Maggie’s Naturals, and Chocolate Craft.

Or if you are the more traditional type, you could just opt for a truly Irish menu with no added coloring at all…such as lamb stew, pork, fish, potatoes, cabbage, and soda bread.  I’ve included an Irish soda bread recipe below.

Let me leave you with a couple of treats – one I made up, and the other from some folks who really know what they’re doing:

May your cabbage be green, but not your fingers…Real food is remembered but seldom lingers.


Irish Soda Bread (Recipe modified from Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland, with measurements recalculated to American standards, www.cookingisfun.ie)


1 pound (4 cups) white flour, preferably unbleached, plus extra for kneading

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

15 ounces buttermilk

Oatmeal or sesame seeds (optional)


1.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease a cake pan and set aside.

2.  In a large mixing bowl, sift the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center. Pour most of the buttermilk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be somewhat soft, but not too wet.

3.  When the dough comes together, turn it out onto a well-floured work surface. Knead lightly into a round, flat disk. Place in cake pan and sprinkle with oatmeal or sesame, if desired. With a sharp knife cut a large cross in the top of the loaf.

4.  Place dough in hot oven and immediately reduce heat to 400 degrees. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove from the cake pan and place back in the oven for another 5 to 10 minutes or until fully cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread. If it is cooked it will sound hollow. Cool on wire rack.

Good luck!

You may also like:

Artificially Rose-Colored Glasses: Why Does The U.S. Still Use Petroleum Food Dyes?

Colorful Language:  How To Identify Petroleum Colors In Food

Petrol Peas:  Food Coloring Hidden in Shelf Staples

Devil In The Details – Read Your Labels When Shopping For Dye-Free Foods

Feeling Lucky?  Five Dye-Free Ways To Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day


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