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Do you need white food coloring for royal icing?

Quick Answer

White food coloring is not strictly necessary for making royal icing. Plain royal icing made with powdered sugar, meringue powder, and water is naturally white. However, adding a small amount of white food coloring can help intensify the color and ensure the icing stays bright white. Some recipes suggest adding a drop or two of white food coloring per batch of icing.

What is Royal Icing?

Royal icing is a type of icing used to decorate cookies and cakes. It has a smooth, hard consistency when fully set, making it perfect for piping detailed decorations. Royal icing is made from just a few ingredients:

  • Powdered (confectioners’) sugar
  • Meringue powder or egg whites
  • Water
  • Optional: Food coloring, extracts, cream of tartar

The powdered sugar gives royal icing its sweetness, while the meringue powder or egg whites provide structure. When whisked together, these ingredients create a thick, pipeable icing.

Royal icing dries very hard once it has set. This makes it ideal for decorating cookies, as the decorations will hold their shape. It can also be used to frost and decorate cakes.

Does Royal Icing Need Food Coloring?

Royal icing recipes don’t require food coloring. The powdered sugar and meringue powder create an icing with a bright white color all on their own.

However, some bakers prefer to add a drop or two of white food coloring per batch. This intensifies the white shade and ensures the icing retains its color once dry.

Over time, royal icing can start to take on a yellow tinge, especially if exposed to air and certain temperatures. The food coloring helps prevent this. But it isn’t strictly necessary, as the icing will still hold its shape and texture just fine without it.

Benefits of Adding White Food Coloring

Here are some of the key benefits of adding white food coloring to royal icing:

  • Brighter white color: White food coloring gives the icing an even more intense, clean white appearance.
  • Prevents yellowing: It protects against any yellowing over time caused by temperature, humidity, etc.
  • Easier to see: The whiter icing shows up better against darker cookie backgrounds.
  • Breathability: White coloring allows the icing to dry and set without inhibiting air circulation.

The amount of white food coloring is quite small, usually no more than a drop or two per batch. This keeps the consistency and stability of the icing intact.

How Much White Food Coloring to Add

Most royal icing recipes suggest adding 1-3 drops of white food coloring per batch. Here are some general guidelines for amounts based on batch size:

Royal Icing Batch Size White Food Coloring Amount
1 cup powdered sugar 1-2 drops
2 cups powdered sugar 1-3 drops
3 cups powdered sugar 2-4 drops

It’s best to start with the smaller suggested amount of food coloring. You can always add more to achieve your desired shade of white. But too much food coloring may compromise the texture.

Be sure to thoroughly mix the food coloring into the icing so it distributes evenly. Check the final color before adding more.

Tips for Using White Food Coloring

Here are some handy tips for successfully using white food coloring in royal icing:

  • Use an icing or gel food coloring for best mixing and white opacity.
  • Add the coloring at the end once the icing is whipped. Overmixing could cause yellowing.
  • Store colored icing in an airtight container in the refrigerator if not using right away.
  • Avoid exposure to air and humidity to prevent fading or yellowing.
  • Refresh icing with a splash of water and extra food coloring if needed.
  • Start with less coloring and add more as desired for best results.

Types of White Food Coloring

There are a few options when it comes to white food coloring:

Liquid Food Coloring

This is the most readily available option. Liquid food coloring comes in small plastic bottles with eye-dropper tips for coloring. A little goes a long way, with usually only 1-3 drops needed per icing batch.

Gel Food Coloring

Gel food colorings provide more intense, opaque color. White gel coloring gives excellent results for royal icing. The thick consistency makes it easy to mix in without thinning the icing.

Powdered Food Coloring

Harder to find than liquid or gel, powdered food coloring dissolves seamlessly into icing. It won’t alter the consistency at all. Just take care not to inhale powder when mixing.

Paint or Whitener

Edible paint or cake whitener products are specifically designed to tint icing bright white. These provide concentrated color, though can be more expensive.

Royal Icing Without Food Coloring

You can absolutely make great royal icing without any food coloring at all. Here are some tips:

  • Use an icing or decorator’s sugar for purest white color.
  • Avoid icing yellowing by storing in an airtight container in the fridge.
  • Pipe icing directly onto cookies rather than flooding for best white appearance.
  • Use icing immediately instead of letting it sit before decorating.
  • Accept that the icing may develop a very slight ivory tinge over time.

With the right ingredients and handling, the icing will still taste delicious and provide stable decorations without food coloring.


While not strictly required, adding a small amount of white food coloring can give royal icing a bright, opaque white color. About 1-3 drops per batch is plenty. White coloring brings out the true white shade, prevents yellowing over time, and makes decorations stand out. Take care not to over-mix icing after adding food coloring. And store colored icing properly in the fridge to maintain freshness. With or without food coloring, royal icing makes a wonderful canvas for decorated cookies and cakes.