Nothing adds quite so much pizzazz to your kitchen creations as bright splashes of color. Food coloring in all of its forms can take a basic cake and turn it into a masterpiece. It can add whimsy to cupcakes, desserts, and homemade play-dohs.
The colors in food coloring are so concentrated that often you only need to use the tiniest amount to build a vibrant color palette. That means that these food colorings can hang around for quite a long time.
Maybe you pulled a package of food coloring out of the cupboard and you can’t quite remember how old it is. It may have an expiration date or it may not. You open it up, take a peek, and everything looks in order, but you’re still wondering whether it’s safe to use.
So does food coloring expire? Most food colorings don’t contain any ingredients that can spoil or go rancid, which gives them an indefinite shelf-life if properly stored. If your food coloring has dried out or changed color, then you will want to throw it out.
Keep reading for all the details on how to tell if your food coloring has gone bad and how to properly store your food coloring so it will last for years in your pantry.
How Long Does Liquid Food Coloring Last?
Manufacturers are required by law to include an expiration date on their products, even if they wouldn’t really be unsafe to use by that date. When it comes to foods, these dates can be important to follow since they can spoil and cause food poisoning or other issues.
Since liquid food coloring doesn’t contain any ingredients that can go bad, exactly, it can last almost indefinitely in your cupboard. With that being said, it will sometimes thicken or harden if not properly sealed, so make sure you screw the caps on tightly after each use.
If you find your liquid food coloring starts to thicken or harden, you can add a few drops of very hot water to the bottle and give it a little shake. Adding the water should thin it back out and ensure that you can keep using it.
Verdict: No real expiration date as long as it is properly stored.
How Long Does Gel Food Coloring Last?
Like liquid food coloring, gel food coloring doesn’t really have an expiration date since they aren’t made from materials that can rot or go rancid. With that being said, gel-based food coloring can harden or dry out if it is not properly stored.
Like liquid food coloring, you may be able to add a little hot water to bring it back to life. But generally speaking, once the gel-based food coloring has dried out, it’s best to throw it away and replace it with something fresher.
You will also want to throw it away if the color begins to change. Sometimes, you may get something into the container of gel food coloring, which can cause contamination. If you see any mold growing due to contamination, throw your food coloring out right away.
Verdict: As long as it hasn’t dried out or hardened then it is safe to use. Keep an eye out for contamination and mold.
How Long Does Powdered Food Coloring Last?
If you know that you’re going to be storing your food coloring for a very long time, then powdered food color may actually be your best bet. Because it doesn’t have any liquid to dry out or harden, it can last virtually indefinitely on the shelf.
Just like other types of food coloring, you will want to make sure it is properly stored. Also, when you’re using it you will want to keep it safe from contamination with food products in your kitchen. If something gets into the powder, it may cause it to grow mold and go bad.
Verdict: Powdered food coloring is great choice for long-term storage since it can’t dry out or harden. Keep it safe from contamination and mold and it will last virtually indefinitely.
How Long Does Paste-Based Food Coloring Last?
You might guess by now that your paste food coloring doesn’t really have an official expiration date either, so long as you properly store it.
Like the other food colorings that contain liquid, there is the potential for it to dry out and harden, or for the color to change as it ages.
If that is the case, you may be able to add a little hot water to bring it back to life or it may need to be thrown out if the color has really gone bad. If you follow the storage tips below, then it should last for a very long time.
Verdict: Keep it tightly sealed and free from contamination and it will last indefinitely.
How Long Does Homemade Food Coloring Last?
If you want to get really creative in the kitchen, you can make your own food colorings from natural ingredients such as beets, turmeric, spirulina, blueberries, and even spinach.
While these options might not be quite as vibrant as the store-bought brands, they are fun to make and offer a natural option. Unfortunately, they don’t last nearly as long as the packaged choices. If you want to make your own food coloring, then small batches are definitely recommended.
Generally speaking, homemade food coloring is going to last about 2 weeks in the fridge, since they are made from foods that can spoil. We recommend writing the date you made it on a piece of masking tape and stick it to the container so you know when it is past its use-by date.
Verdict: A fun choice, but unfortunately will only last about 2 weeks properly sealed in the fridge.
Best Ways To Store Your Food Coloring
To make sure your food coloring lasts for the long term, you will want to make sure you are properly storing it after each use. Most food coloring will come in its own container that is designed to keep it fresh and potent for a long time.
- After using your food coloring, make sure you very tightly seal the container since air can dry out the liquid, paste, and gel food colorings.
- If the container breaks, move it to another airtight container.
- You will also want to check to make sure nothing has gotten into the containers that could cause contamination since moldy food coloring will have to be thrown away. If you are dipping into the container, use a clean utensil each time.
- Keep your food coloring away from direct sunlight or sources of heat. If you can, don’t store it near your oven or stovetop since the heat from that appliance could speed up the drying process. A cool, dark cupboard away from heat sources is your best bet.
What’s The Difference Between All The Types Of Food Coloring?
While all food colorings are going to be concentrated and give you the opportunity to add a variety of beautiful colors to your kitchen creations, there are a couple small differences.
Liquid food colorings that come in the small bottles are generally what the home cook is going to use since they are best in small-batch baking and cooking. They are inexpensive and easy to find at the grocery store and are great for paler, less intense colors.
Paste or gel food colorings are going to be more popular amongst professional bakers or the more adventurous home baker who makes large batches of icings or cakes. These food colorings can give a more vivid final hue than the liquid kind.
You can also use the paste or gel food coloring in foods that might seize when water is added to them, such as white chocolate. They’re also great to use in fondant and buttercream icings since they won’t change the final texture or consistency.
Finally, powdered food coloring is perfect to use in items that need to stay dry in their final form. It can be used to color coconut shavings and sugar. It’s also great to use in royal icing or a gum paste. The color isn’t quite as vibrant as the other kinds, so it’s not recommended for things like buttercream.
As you can see, most commercially sold food colorings don’t expire as long as they are properly stored. Make sure that you tightly seal the containers after each use and store them in a cool, dark cupboard away from sunlight or heat.
If you are going to make your own food coloring, it will only last about 2 weeks in the fridge. Write the date you made it on a piece of masking tape and stick it to the airtight storage container so that you know when you need to use it.
No matter the food coloring you use, if you follow the steps above for storage it should last long-term so you can create colorful kitchen magic for years to come.
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