Mixology Talk Podcast, Episodes 171 & 172
One of Chris’ mottos is that, if you want to learn to be better at mixology, you should talk with a pastry chef. Well, this week, Chris talks with not one but two pastry chefs about the color red, which leads to some great ideas about adding all kinds of color to cocktails. From natural options to traditional food dye, we have a lot of amazing tips. And check out our super rad color chart if you want to explore various colors and options!
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Two Interviews, One Awesome Topic
So, we tried to cut these two interviews together à la NPR, but… We failed. Both Chef Bella Jatzo and Chef Amy Mirate give Chris so much info that it’s probably best just to let you see their whole interviews. And while some of the suggestions overlap, each chef offers unique ideas about color.
This ended up being a long article because we covered a LOT of ground.
Use these jump-links to skip ahead!
- Interview with Chef Bella – watch the video, get her bio, and see some handy timestamps for specific topics she covered in the interview.
- Interview with Chef Amy – Once again, check out the video, her bio, and more timestamps so you can skip ahead.
- Using Ingredients to Achieve Color (with a Focus on “Red”)
- Techniques for Creating Color
- Working with Red: Colors to avoid
Watch the Interview with Chef Bella:
Chef Bella Jatzo
Bella began her career in the pastry world under Chef Seth Bixby Daughtry. She is currently managing a group of 75-year-old family bakeries and opened a third-wave coffee shop and bakery in 2019. When she’s not putting coffee in cups or playing with flour, she spends her time with her husband and two kids.
“A lot of shades and tones and depth of color can look that pedestrian kind of visual because it’s just so ‘red dye #4.’ So if you can come to that color in a more subtle way slightly or less bright, more towards a duskier tone so you still get the red, you’re not just getting the bright cherry red, that’s probably what I would say would be the best way to approach it […] then you’re not getting that cliche vampire blood red.”-Chef Bella Jatzo
Key Moments in the Interview with Chef Bella
1:40- Chef Bella’s background & current adventures
5:20- Where to start with red/inspiration & particular fruits
9:28- Dehydrated garnishes to showcase red & candied zests
15:55- Using dried pigments to add color (and avocado at 18:58!)
22:05- Foams: Advice for using colored foam
24:30- Using alkaline water to keep pigments true
28:26- Other ingredients to create red & colors to avoid when working with red
33:08- Reinforcing idea of color through flavor
Watch the Interview with Chef Amy:
Chef Amy Mirate
After attending culinary school in Santa Barbara, Amy got a job with the Cheesecake Factory as a research and development pastry chef for two of the company’s concepts, Grand Lux Café and RockSugar PanAsian Kitchen. After relocating to Eugene, OR and entertaining a brief stint as a stay-at-home mom to her son and daughter, she became the pastry chef for Marché/Provisions, a hallmark restaurant company known for French-based cuisine, heavily steeped in the philosophy of lauding the bounty of the Willamette Valley.
“Red goes with just about everything. Our brains don’t really like blue in terms of food. For whatever reason, they’ve found that blue food ticks something in our reptilian brain that makes us not want it. There must have been a mass extinction that was caused by, like, a bright blue berry a million years ago or something.” -Chef Amy Mirate
Key Moments in the Interview with Chef Amy
1:15- Background & current adventures
7:08- Dried pigments for adding color
11:00- Consommés & frozen fruit
17:18- Using white chocolate ganache & power flowers for adding color
26:00- Reinforcing idea of color through flavor
30:37- Spices in terms of flavor for red
36:00- Extra tips for DIY color (freeze dried fruit & avoiding the color blue)
40:55- Colors to stay avoid when working with red
How to Achieve Red Through Ingredients
Ready to get colorful? We’re going to begin with ingredients, and then we’ll go into techniques for creating the red color (and others) in cocktails. But there are a few issues to think about first.
Things to Consider
Here’s the catch with color: It does not bring neutral flavor. As Chef Amy explains,
“It’s pretty much impossible to add color without flavors […] The same cells that are making the color are the same cells that are making the flavor. So it’s almost impossible to get the color without the flavor unless you want to work with pigment powders.”
Both Amy and Bella recommended pigment powders, so we’ll definitely explore that option more. (Check out #2 on our list below!) Also, if you want to intensify the color, remember that you’re also going to be intensifying the flavor by adding more of the chosen ingredient.
As Chris brings up in his interview with Chef Amy, color indicates flavor; so the color needs to be the right shade to communicate a certain flavor to guests. If something is labeled “cherry,” I expect it to be bright red, not a light pink. Your guests have color-flavor associations, so you have to achieve color accordingly.
Let’s Start With the Basics: Fruits/Veggies/Tea
A natural place to start adding color is with actual fruits and vegetables.
Fruits: Your best options for universally-pleasant flavors coupled with the right shade of red are probably berries like raspberries and strawberries. Cranberries give a more tart flavor, while cherries are a nice middle ground between sweet and tart.
- Strawberries tend to give a lighter pink color rather than red.
- Guests expect cherry-flavored drinks to be bright red, so think about the color being dead-on to match the flavor.
- We made a Pomegranate Fizz this month, but you have to be careful about the dusky color that pomegranates can make.
Beets: We just used beet powder in our Valentine’s Day Can’t Be Beet cocktail. Let me tell you, it’s a lot easier than roasting and peeling fresh beets! Beets create a deeper red color, which I think goes well with the earthy flavor they provide.
Unique Fruit Idea: Dragonfruit is one we hadn’t thought of before! Chef Bella recommended it:
“Dragonfruit is something I would give a shot. There’s dragonfruit that has the white insides and then dragonfruit that has the red, and if you want to feel them out […] just crack them open, chop them into pieces, boil them in a simple syrup and see what color you get. You can boil it, shut it off, leave it in there for 15 minutes [or] 4-6 hours, strain it, see what colors you get.”
In terms of flavor, Dragonfruit is a little fruity in flavor but not too strong according to Bella.
Blood orange: Ok, yes, this also falls under fruit, but it’s a little different than berries. Blood orange is gorgeous and can give a reddish-orange hue to a drink. With a combination of sweet and tart, I personally think blood orange looks how it tastes (although I wouldn’t say the result is exactly red).
Hibiscus tea: Both Chef Bella and Chef Amy mention hibiscus tea, which is something I definitely didn’t think of. According to Amy, however, the flavor can be a bit polarizing for some guests, so you’ll have to decide how and when to use it. But it sure does give that pop of red!
So What Are These Dry Pigments?
Dry pigment powders are a way to add color without adding much (if any) flavor to a cocktail and act as an alternative to food dyes. They’re typically more natural than dyes and offer a wide variety of colors, depending on the company. Here are some brand recommendations from Amy and Bella:
- Sensient Food Colors/Naturally Colorful: Offering a wide array of colors, Sensient Food Colors is a man-made, GMO pigment derived from natural foods rather than chemicals. They even have a section on their website all about red.
- Avocolor: Made from avocado pit, colors are limited to the yellow, orange, red spectrum– but there is no effect on flavor! They seem to be in the beta-testing stage, so we’ll definitely be keeping an eye on their progress.
- Nature’s Flavor: Amy says this company is as close to all natural as you’re going to get (other than maybe avocado); they offer a small variety of basic colors. Look for “Food Coloring Powder” on their website.
Of course there are dozens of powdered food colors on Amazon, but many were questionably natural at best. I did see Suncore offers a line of powdered food colors that appear to be naturally derived – but YMMV, we haven’t tested these ourselves.
Spicing It Up: Spices and Chili Pepper Powder
Chili peppers/powder: Using chili pepper powders can be difficult because you have to use a lot to gain color. While I love a jalapeño margarita, for example, I don’t want to be spiced out of my drink! If you use something like cayenne pepper, mix it with something else (Bella infuses it into a tumeric-ginger simple syrup at the bakery where she works).
Cool Tip from Bella: When using chili powder as a spicy rim garnish, apply with olive oil to cut down some of the spiciness.
Spices: As Chef Amy points out, Americans in general aren’t always tolerant of spices in their foods. Obviously, cinnamon is commonly accepted, but if you’re looking to appeal to the more adventurous palette, Amy suggests trying pink peppercorn. I personally love saffron and paprika, so I would be curious to see if bartenders in our group could utilize those to achieve a red hue in cocktails.
But What About Traditional Dyes?
Wouldn’t it just be easier to add color with food dye? Maybe, but Bella and Amy both suggest using dyes very sparingly, if at all. As Bella warns,
“Stay away from them because they are very, very detectable in certain applications. […] Stick as close as you can to natural. I understand that it’s kind of a bummer when you want to have a drink to look one way but you don’t want the flavor; unfortunately, right now you’re kind of limited in that. But I think that the outcome overall is superior than just sticking a drop of food coloring in there […] Once you get too much in there, you can’t get rid of it.”
If you are tempted to use food dye to color your cocktails, Amy recommends TruColor, a more natural option.
Techniques for Creating Color
Besides using specific ingredients to create red— or any color— Amy and Bella shared a lot of creative techniques for adding color to cocktails.
To create a fruit consommé, Amy suggests using individual quick frozen fruit (IQF) rather than fruit in frozen syrup (syrup throws off the ratios). She also recommends using berries instead of other fruit because their floral notes go best with alcohol.
How to make Fruit Consommé:
- Toss/coat 2 lbs of frozen fruit in 8 oz sugar
- Wrap the bowl tightly with seran wrap and put over a double boiler of simmering water
- Cook the fruit slowly on low heat, using the steam in an airtight environment
This process will give you lovely colors and flavors from the fruit, which you can then add to your cocktails!
- Add a little elderberry syrup to make berries and stone fruit retain their floral flavor.
- Working with IQF fruit offers a better flavor because they’re picked when they are the most fresh.
- Don’t use frozen fruit for garnishes, though!
Power Flower/Cocoa Butter
Power Flowers are a hyper-pigmented cocoa butter often used to color white chocolate. (The possibilities!) According to Chef Amy, you can achieve thousands of different colors by combining them. If you want to play with Power Flowers at home or in your drink service, check out Chef Rubber’s version.
Chris and I have noticed that edible paints are definitely having a “moment” in cocktails, and Amy has some unique suggestions about how to create these yourself:
- Combine Power Flowers and freeze-dried fruit powders (you can even grind freeze dried fruit yourself)
- Add flavor abstracts, like ones from Amorretti
- Create a thinner, Agar-based fluid gel as an edible paint
There is so much information about edible paints, and since Amy is the expert, I highly suggest jumping to minute 17:18 in her interview to hear her tricks and techniques.
Using a candied garnish can really add a pop of color! For red, try a blood orange rind. This is also a great way to promote sustainability in your beverage service: If you use the fruit in your drink, candy the zest instead of throwing it away. (You could even use the boiled mixture as a simple syrup!)
- Put zest or fruit in a pot of boiling half water-half sugar
- Boil it depending on how hard you want the rind or fruit to be (longer amount of time for a softer fruit and shorter for a harder fruit)
- When you’ve reached your desired consistency, pull out the fruit
- Toss the fruit in granulated cane sugar for crystallized, crunchy textures
- Use vinegar and maybe a dye or pigment powder to enhance your chosen color.
- Get a candy thermometer to measure the temperature.
- Don’t let it stick together and get moist again! Store your candied rind/fruit in a bag, lying flat so it doesn’t all stick together.
Butterfly Pea Flower Tea and Ionization/Alkaline Water
OK, so this one is blue instead of red, but Butterfly pea flower tea seems to have become every bartender’s favorite magic trick. And if you’re looking for purple color, you’re going to be thrilled! But if you’re hoping to use it for the color blue… well, that’s going to be tricky. Because this tea famously turns a beautiful bright purple the moment it comes in contact with acid. (Check out this video we made on the topic way back in 2014!) As Amy says,
“If you’re trying to DIY it, just give up on the color blue. […] Just accept what color purple you’re ok with.”
But Bella has a different theory about how to retain that bright blue color when adding it to acidic cocktails: try adding Alkaline water instead of tap water or use an ionizer on your water to stabilize the Ph balance before adding color. (I’ve personally struggled with this and can’t wait to try it!)
Colors to Avoid When Working With Red
To wrap up our focus on red, Chris asked Bella and Amy about color schemes and other colors to avoid when working specifically with red; of course, this is personal opinion, but Amy really doesn’t like matching red and green, specifically with mint because mint can be overdone as a garnish. I associate red and green with Christmas, so maybe it’s best to steer away from that color combo unless you’re theming your cocktails for the holidays.
Bella suggests avoiding other primary colors when working with red. This is more about practicality, though: If you get primary colors too close together, they start running together into a muddy-brown mess. (No thanks!)
So How Do YOU Create Color?
Chef Bella and Chef Amy gave us so many new ideas to try out! Maybe with these tips, we’ll have more luck creating cocktails that are actually red. But what about other colors? Check out our awesome infographic below for some inspiration for a whole rainbow of colors!
And as Chef Bella mentioned, we have some really inspiring conversations in our Craft Cocktail Facebook group. If you haven’t joined already, please do! We’d love to hear how you use color in cocktails and see what you’re serving up.
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