Oil-Based vs. Water-Based Food Color: Which One to Choose and When?

Oil-Based vs. Water-Based Food Color: Which One to Choose and When?

It’s one of those questions that confuses a lot of new and experienced bakers. Maybe you are accustomed to working with one kind over the other. So which one should you use and when? Let’s discuss what the best color options are, which one to choose and when.

Oil-Based Color

Oil-based food or “candy” colors were created to be used in candy making. These are best used for recipes that contain high amounts of fats and oils. This type of coloring is designed to blend & bond with oils and fats creating bold vibrant colors. 


Oil-based colors can be used in:

  • Buttercreams with high fat content such as Swiss Meringue Buttercream & Italian Buttercream
  • Chocolate
  • Candy melts
  • Hard Candy

Popular Oil-based colors

Water-Based Color Gel

Gel or water-based colors are the most commonly used form of color. The water in these gels blends well with products that contain a high water content. Unlike oil-based colors, a small drop goes a long way & with just a little gel you can achieve very saturated vibrant hues.


Water-based color gels can be used in:

  • Meringues
  • American buttercream
  • Royal icing
  • Ehipped icings
  • Fondant
  • Batters & Doughs
  • Macarons

Popular water-based colors

What To Avoid

Using Water-based gels in high-fat products causes water to repel the oil, producing a very dull color. You will find that no matter how much color you add, it’s never enough. If you find yourself in a situation with a high-fat buttercream & only water-based colors on hand you can force the color to blend by melting a small amount of buttercream with gel color & mixing your new mixture into the rest of the batch.

                Never use water-based food coloring with chocolate, the water content will seize & ruin your chocolate. 

Shop Quality Food Colors

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