Wiki: Colourants

Most cheese, unless a colourant is added is the colour of milk, white. This article is about colourants which are normally added to the milk before coagulation in cheese making to obtain non-white coloured cheese. There is a separate article on the most common colourant Annatto, Wiki: Annatto.

Common Household Kitchen Food Colouring, Pre-Diluted In Water -
Common Household Kitchen Food Colouring, Pre-Diluted In Water -


Milk is naturally white and most cheese making (except blue cheese) does not significantly change the colour and thus without colourants most cheese would be white. Thus to distinguish cheeses, non-flavouring colourants have historically been added. Popular are orange coloured Cheddar and red coloured Leicester commonly through the addition of Annatto, the most popular colourant in cheese making. Colouring is so ingrained in consumers minds that it can affect their perception and appreciation of cheese even though colourants are normally non-flavouring, and thus the effect mostly psychological. For example, some people will not buy or eat white cheddar.

Colourants for cheese can be divided into three categories:

Colourants From Flavourings

  • Chilies.
  • Herbs.
  • Wine washed rinds.

Common Colourants From Natural Food Dyes

  • Green: Chlorophyll.
  • Yellow: Turmeric, Lutein.
  • Orange: Annatto, Cochineal.
  • Red: Carmine.
  • Pink: Anthocyanin, Beet Red.
  • Brown: Caramel, Malt.
  • Black: Carbo.

Colourants From Artificial Food Dyes

  • Common in cake and cookie/biscuit making.

Amount To Add

Common Household Kitchen Food Colourants -
Common Household Kitchen Food Colourants -

Amount to add is dependant on effect wanted and type and concentration of colourant, adjust as necessary.

How To Add

Food dyes are normally very concentrated and thus adding it directly to milk will result in generally unwanted pockets of colour. Therefore, pre-dilute your colourant in ~20 ml cool water per liter of milk/~0.25 cup cool water per one US gallon, then trickle into milk while stirring to distribute evenly.

When To Add

Many food dyes including Annatto, can retard rennet’s effectiveness. To minimize this, natural and artificial food dyes are normally added to the milk rather than being added to the rennet before adding to the milk.

Note, a common step after adding food colouring is adding rennet, do not use the same container to pre-dilute rennet in as it can reduce the rennet’s strength.


  • Cooking food dyes in grocery stores.
  • Annatto seeds in some grocery stores such as Latin grocery stores.
  • Cheese making aqueous Annatto from Cheese Making Supply Stores


Food colourants are normally very concentrated and can easily stain almost anything. Thus best safety practices are:

  • Store in a secondary external container or zip loc type plastic bag.
  • When using, wear disposable (i.e. latex) gloves.
  • When pre-diluting, use non-stainable container such as glass or china.