When you want to decorate Valentine’s Day or holiday sugar cookies, this recipe will show you how to make red royal icing that is really red (not pink!).
If you’ve ever tried to make true red royal icing with the gel food coloring that you buy at the grocery store, you know it’s hard to do.
The icing either turns out pink.
Or you have to use a whole bottle of food color to get it the right color.
And then it tastes awful!
Since I’ve been frosting some sugar cookies lately, I ran into all of these problems myself.
So I decided to find out how to make true red royal icing that still tastes like icing.
And while I was at it, I answered a few other questions, too (click the links if you want to skip straight to the answers).
- What is the difference in color between AmeriColor Tulip Red vs Red Red vs Super Red vs Crimson
- What is the difference in color between Wilton No Taste Red vs AmeriColor Red Red
- Can the grocery store Betty Crocker red gel food coloring actually make red royal icing? (spoiler alert: yes, it can, but it takes A LOT of food color).
- How much food color do you need to use to make the icing turn red?
- And finally, after all the testing…what is the best red food coloring for royal icing?
Now, let’s get started!
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Here’s your shopping list for red royal icing:
- sugar – 1 pound (or 4 cups) of powdered (icing) sugar
- thickener – 3 Tablespoons meringue powder* – This lets you make royal icing without worrying about raw eggs. It also means the icing will last much longer without going bad…basically forever 🙂
- flavoring – 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or any other flavor you want to add to your icing (for example, you might use peppermint extract for decorating candy canes or cinnamon extract for decorating Valentine hearts)
- food coloring – red gel food color (don’t get the liquid kind because it changes the consistency of the icing) – I recommend AmeriColor Red Red* or AmeriColor Super Red*, but AmeriColor Tulip Red*, AmeriColor Crimson* or Wilton No Taste Red* will also work. (See below for the differences). In a pinch, you can also use Betty Crocker red gel (the kind you can find in the grocery store) but you’ll need a lot of it and the flavor may not be as good.
How To Make Red Royal Icing
Make White Icing
First you’ll need to start with a batch of regular white royal icing.
You can use your favorite recipe, buy it already made, or make ours:
- Sift 4 cups of powdered sugar into a mixing bowl (a stand mixer works best).
- Add 3 Tablespoons of meringue powder, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract (or other flavoring) and 1/4 cup of WARM water.
- Mix on low speed until all ingredients are combined. Then increase the speed to medium and beat until the icing is thick enough to pipe, 3 to 7 minutes.
Add The Food Coloring
Then you need to add in the red food color.
If you don’t want all of your icing to be red, move some of it into a separate bowl.
Start with a little bit of red food coloring (as in a few drops).
Stir it into the icing.
Knives work better than spoons for this because it’s easier to clean all of the food coloring off it.
If you do use a spoon, don’t mix with a wooden one since it may absorb the color and can add oils to your icing that will cause it to separate.
Get The Color Right
If the color isn’t dark enough, add in a little more red.
Repeat until it looks more red than pink, or until adding more food color doesn’t change the color of the icing (in which case, it’s saturated).
Keep in mind that the color of the icing will get darker over time.
So if you’re not sure if the color is red enough, cover the icing with plastic wrap. Push the plastic down so it is directly touching the top of the icing to keep it from drying out.
Then let it sit for 2 or 3 hours (or even overnight) to see what it looks like.
If it’s still not red enough, add more food coloring. If it’s too dark, stir in a little more white icing.
Now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, let’s get on to the results of my experiment.
What Is The Difference In Color?
- AmeriColor Red Red vs AmeriColor Super Red: These two colors were both a true bright red and were almost exactly the same. You could probably get away with using a little bit less of the Super Red to get the same intensity. In either case, I didn’t notice a difference in the taste
- AmeriColor Tulip Red vs AmeriColor Red Red (or Super Red): The Tulip Red was also a very intense color but it had a lot more orange in it than the Red Red. And didn’t add any bitter flavor. Because of the color, it isn’t what I would choose for Valentine’s Day or Christmas cookies, but that is my personal taste…use it if you like it!
- AmeriColor Crimson vs AmeriColor Red Red: The Crimson food coloring has a lot more brown in it. I would say it’s a mix between Maroon and Red. Which you might like if you’re not too keen on bright red. Again, no bitter taste so choose it if this is the color you’re going for.
- Wilton No Taste Red vs AmeriColor Red Red: These two colors were very similar. The Wilton Red was a little more subdued but still recognizably red. It did take quite a bit more food coloring to get to the same intensity (more on that later), and the taste was slightly bitter.
- Betty Crocker red gel food color: After mixing in a lot of this food color, I was able to get the icing to turn red. But it definitely had a bitter taste to it. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you don’t have any other options.
How Much Red Food Color To Use?
- For all of the AmeriColor gels, I used 1/8 teaspoon per 1/2 cup of icing.
- For the Wilton red food color, I used 1/4 teaspoon per 1/2 cup of icing.
- For the Better Crocker gel, I used almost 1/2 teaspoon per 1/2 cup of icing.
When you are mixing your own, I still recommend starting out with a little bit of food coloring and then adding more until you get the intensity you want. But this should give you an idea of about how much you’ll need.
How Long To Wait For The Red Color To Intensify?
Two or three hours should be long enough to get an idea of how dark the red will be.
But you can leave it overnight if you really want to see the end result before you put the icing on your cookies.
Letting it sit for a few hours before using it has the added benefit that it allows any air bubbles to come to the surface. That way they won’t cause craters in your icing after you pipe it onto the cookies.
What’s The Best Red Food Color For Royal Icing?
Betty Crocker Red and Wilton No Taste Red* will work but need more food coloring to get the same red color, and have a bitter taste.
How To Store Red Royal Icing
Royal icing made with meringue powder can be stored at room temperature for a few days or in the refrigerator for up to a week. Cover it with plastic wrap that is directly touching the surface of the icing to prevent it from drying out.
To freeze royal icing, put it in a ziploc bag and push out all of the air before closing. It can be stored this way for a month or more. Let it warm to room temperature before using.
If the icing has separated after storage, mix it for a few seconds to re-combine.
Here are a few more commonly asked questions about red royal icing.
Why Is My Royal Icing Pink?
There are 3 possible issues that can cause royal icing to look pink rather than red:
- The first is that you need to use a better brand of food coloring. I recommend AmeriColor Red Red.
- The second is that you haven’t let the icing sit for a few hours to see the true color. It gets darker over time.
- And the third is that you may need to add more food coloring. Some brands need quite a lot to produce an intense red color.
How To Keep Red Royal Icing From Bleeding?
The easiest way to keep red royal icing from bleeding is to make sure that adjacent layers of icing are totally dry before introducing a new color.
I like to wait overnight before piping red on (or beside) another color.
Also, changing the consistency of your icing may help – thicker icing tends to bleed less than thinner icing.
Why Does My Icing Have Blotches?
If your icing is darker in some spots than others, the oils from the butter in the cookies may have bled into the icing.
To prevent this, make sure the cookies have had time to completely cool. I leave them on wire cooling racks over night. Also, icing with a thicker consistency is less likely to have this problem than thinner icing.
To fix the problem after the fact, spread the cookies out on a cookie sheet and put them in the oven with just the oven light on. Leave them for a few hours. The heat from the light is enough to warm the cookies up slightly which will cause all of the icing to turn a darker color.
Other Recipes You Might Like
- How To Make Pink Royal Icing
- The Best Way To Make Black Royal Icing
- How To Decorate Heart Sugar Cookies
- How To Make Christmas Tree Sugar Cookies
How To Make Red Royal Icing
- stand mixer with a whisk attachment and a mixing bowl
- mixing spoon or knife
- 4 cups icing sugar
- 3 Tablespoons meringue powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup WARM water
- AmeriColor Red Red or Super Red gel food coloring about 1/4 teaspoon per cup of icing
- Sift 4 cups of icing sugar into the mixer.
- Add 3 Tablespoons meringue powder, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1/2 cup WARM water.
- Mix on low speed until combined.
- Increase the mixer speed to medium and mix for 3 to 5 minutes until the icing forms soft peaks.
- Run a knife through the icing to test the consistency
- It should take between 15 and 25 seconds for the gap to close. If it closes too quickly, beat it for a little while longer. If it closes too slowly, add a few drops of water and mix briefly.
- Repeat the testing process until the icing is the right consistency.
- If you are going to use the whole batch for red icing, add the red food coloring directly to your bowl. Otherwise, separate out the icing that you want to be red into another bowl.
- Add in a small amount of red gel food coloring and mix it by hand. Using a knife to do the mixing makes it easier to clean off the food coloring.
- If the color still looks pink, add a little more red gel and mix again. Repeat until it has reached a color that looks more red than pink.
- The color will darken over time. If you're not sure the icing is red enough, cover it with plastic wrap that is touching the surface and let it sit for a couple of hours. Then check the color and mix in more food color if required.
- Since it is very difficult to create two batches of icing with the exact same color, make sure you make enough of the red to do all of your cookie decorating.
- The color will darken over time. To get a better idea of how red your icing will be, let it sit over night. Cover it with plastic wrap touching the surface of the icing to keep it from drying out.
- Letting the icing sit for a few hours before using it will also allow any air bubbles to rise to the surface. This prevents craters from forming in the icing on your cookies.
- To store the icing, put it in a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Then push down on the plastic so it is directly touching the icing and there are no air bubbles. It can be stored at room temperature this way for a few days, or in the refrigerator for up to a week.
- To freeze, put it into a Ziploc bag and push out all of the air before closing. It can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- Bring it back to room temperature before using.
- If it looks like it has separated when you go to use it, this is normal. Just stir it to re-combine the layers.
Nutrition values are estimates only, using online calculators. Please verify using your own data.
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This post was originally published on February 13, 2021 but was updated with new content on February 20, 2023.