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?

Take a nostalgic trip back to elementary school science class recall the fascination as the science teacher dropped oil into a glass of water, witnessing the fascinating separation and formation of oil bubbles. Do you remember that moment of scientific magic? The same principle applies in the world of baking.

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 the best color options, which one to choose, and when.

Oil-Based Color

Oil-based food, candy or chocolate coloring was 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

AmeriColor Oil Candy Color, Chefmaster Candy Color, and Colour Mill Food Coloring are among some of the most popular oil-based food colors on the market.

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
  • Whipped icings
  • Fondant
  • Batters & Doughs
  • Macarons

Popular water-based colors

Chefmaster Gel Food Color, AmeriColor Gel & Wilton Gel Food Color are popular choices among cake decorators.

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.

When using any kind of food coloring remember the following:

  • Add a little at a time, you can always add more color but you cannot remove color once its been added.
  • Dark buttercream colors deepen over time, keep this in mind when mixing your shades.

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

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