Entrepreneur Ashley Phelps and her company Color Kitchen are on a mission to bring a rainbow of wholesome, nontoxic colors to our favorite homemade confections
Altering the color of food to make it more appealing goes back as far as Egypt in 1500 B. C., where natural extracts and wine were used to punch up otherwise boring confections. By the 19th century, additives containing lead, mercury, and even arsenic were routinely used to enliven culinary off erings. In the 20th century, these noxious elements were replaced by dyes derived from coal tar and other synthetic processes.
There is controversy over the eff ects and safety of these current colorants, with cogent arguments on both sides. But for those who prefer to err on the side of caution, especially when their children’s health may be at stake, there is a movement toward demonstrably safe and natural dyes that provide the requisite rainbow delights without the possible negative consequences.
Enter Ashley Phelps and Color Kitchen. Trained as an artist, Phelps graduated from UCLA and moved to San Francisco, where she painted and exhibited, working professionally as a muralist and art teacher. Because she was chemically sensitive, she had a hard time working with solvents and paints that commonly contain formaldehyde as a preservative. Looking for gentler alternatives, she learned that even “nontoxic” children’s paints contained these chemicals, though they were labeled as safe.
Then one day her Ethiopian landlord showed Phelps his house paint made of cactus, and it made her wonder if there was a way to make natural, chemicalfree alternatives for arts- and- crafts paints. After embarking on an enthusiastic quest for information about historical and current iterations of coloring agents, she developed a line of natural paints for kids, called Glob Colors, made from food- grade ingredients.
At this point, Ashley was hooked. Next up, she developed a natural food- dye kit for Easter eggs, and from there it was a short step to dyes for food coloring, as she came to realize that there was a distinct lack of natural choices in that sector of the market. And what could be more artistic than creating beautiful desserts?
Thus was born Color Kitchen, off ering artifi cial- dye- free, plant- based, vegan, gluten- free, non- GMO food colors. Phelps realized that baking and decorating, “tap into personal values of happiness, femininity, creativity, and love.” Creating colors that enabled health- conscious parents to allow their children previously forbidden treats became not only a creative endeavor, but also a way to restore a little magic to the kitchen.
“I’m proud to have created a natural, plant- based solution, so parents can color a birthday cake and not worry about their child’s health. I see my colors as bringing joy and happiness to healthconscious parents and their children, so that celebrations can be enjoyed fully.”
And her tasks don’t end with perfecting successful colors— those colors have to work in recipes for confections of all sorts. So developing and testing recipes is a necessary part of her repertoire, and one that she embraces with delight.
For Ashley, it comes down to this: “Making the products is a creative process for me. And when I get feedback from parents that their child is no longer restricted from enjoying sweets because of the artifi cial dyes, it makes me happy. My mom was a nutritionist, and we weren’t allowed to eat candy or sugar, so I know what that feels like. No child should be denied birthday cake!”
“I see my colors as bringing joy and happiness to health- conscious parents,” says Phelps, above.