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Posted on Sep 6, 2008 in Amorette, Bento, Decorative, Tips, Tutorial or How-to | 18 comments

Edible Paint

Edible Paint


Please welcome guest author Amorette (Sakurako Kitsa), who is writing a series on how to make decorative art bento lunches. ~Biggie

 edible paint

The beautiful natural coloration of foods is always best, but you can also accent a bento with edible “paint”. I use it from time to time. The paints in the palette above are made from sour cream, which is just one option. Read on for some pointers on painting with foods and what to expect from the different types you’re working with.

Most of my painting is done with sour cream, yogurt, vanilla pudding and cream cheese. They take on color well and mix fairly smoothly, but each one has its pros and cons.

Yogurt/Sour Cream

Pros:  Smooth, thin, bright color, easy to tailor to your dietary needs.

Cons: Has a nasty habit of separating and becoming watery.

Vanilla Pudding

Pros:  Smooth, bright  color, comes in regular, fat-free and sugar-free, easy to mix right in the cup.

Cons:  Turkey or cheese painted with vanilla pudding can taste a bit weird.

Cream Cheese

Pros:  Bright color, sticks where you put it, mixes well with the flavors of lots of foods.

Cons: Slightly rougher texture, more difficult to paint with.

paint comparison


I’ve made some streaks of “paint” on a piece of American cheese for comparison. On the left are a brush-stripe and a toothpick-stripe made with cream cheese. The stripes on the right are made with sour cream. Do you see the difference in brightness and texture? This is why I prefer to use the cream cheese most of the time.




brush types


 Brush types make a big difference, too.  All of these wiggly shapes are made with food-safe cake decorating brushes in cream cheese. Like regular paintbrushes, quality makes a big difference.  The yellow craft-store brush makes a patchy line; the three specialized fondant brushes on the right are more consistent. Always make sure to handwash your brushes well after painting with food, by the way…you don’t want to introduce bacteria into your next project!



apple and egg


Also keep in mind that the substance you’re using as paint must vaguely match what you’re painting on, or else it could melt away. Use fat-based paints like sour cream and cream cheese on similar solids, like sliced cheese. I’ve found that cheese-on-cheese painting seems to produce the brightest and longest-lasting results.


For watery foods, it’s best to use your food coloring (natural juice or manufactured) as a sort of watercolor. Here I’ve made lines on an apple (above) and an egg (below) so you can see how straight-painted food coloring behaves. For lighter color, dilute with water. Remember that the brighter the color of straight-painted food coloring, the bigger the risk you run of coming away from lunch with a blue mouth.


  You can see paint work on an apple on the sides of my tree frog bento.  Watery foods will tend to feather and soften their color over time, so you might find that the boldly-drawn lines on your hard-boiled egg have been absorbed and are showing through as gentle pastels. That’s just the way egg behaves.


black food coloring Here’s my black food coloring in his lonely little isolation tank. Black food coloring can be beautiful and very useful, but I tend to treat the stuff like a level 4 biohazard. It stains everything it touches and a little goes a long, long way. I open the bottle with paper towels and deal with a drop or two at a time in a small dish. When I’m finished, the bottle gets closed with paper towels and goes back into the box-within-a-box. If you’ve ever had a bottle of black food coloring spill in your cupboard, you know why. Squid ink is healthier, yes, but I’m allergic to it, so I’ve had to come to terms with this stuff.


Anyway, back to painting. I’m going to do a quick cheese-on-cheese painting here (cream cheese paint on a piece of American cheese) to show you how well it performs. I cut the American cheese into a t-shirt…let’s tie-dye it.


tie dye 1


Using one of the nicer fondant brushes (the squared one), I picked up a little purple cream cheese and made a spiral by gently daubing the “paint” onto the American cheese. Daub, daub, daub, around and around. Once I finished with the purple, I picked up a bit of pink, and so on.  Just follow the spiral around and overlap the colors slightly to make it look more authentic.



finished shirt


Here’s the finished product.  Cover and stick in the fridge for a few minutes (I kept the plastic off the surface by surrounding the cheese with big-handled paring knives). Pry it gently off the plate (don’t worry too much about little cracks, you can hide them) and lay it on your COOLED bento (hot rice will make the shirt go bye-bye very quickly).



 love peace bento

See?   Not that hard, just a little time-consuming.

 Ok, that’s all for me! Thanks for hanging out with me this week.  :)

Welcome back, Biggie, we all missed you!




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  1. Thank you so much for sharing all your tips!!!! Really useful good ideas — making picture bento seem like something I might actually be able to tackle instead of just gawk at :D

  2. Very creative! I suppose fruit and candy have trained me that pretty paste; colours are sweet. For that reason, the pudding appeals to me much more than the sour cream.

  3. Thanks so much! I’ve loved reading all your ideas.
    I always tell my son, “nothing blue!”, but maybe I’ll reconsider using a little blue “paint” for his must-have blue Pokemon.

  4. Once I accidently put the lid for the corn syrup on my black paste color (and the black lid on the syrup). Obviously it wasn’t a secure lid and there was black everywhere - all over all the other colors and supplies (I’m a cake decorator, too.) HUGE mess. The top of the blue Americolor gel wasn’t secure once, too……I know all about stains! After I make a cake, my hands are all sorts of funky colors!

  5. Thanks again for the kind comments…

    Jaguarrior: I used to use cookie icing and soft fondant for drawing designs on top of pudding. It works, if it’s not tinted. If it is tinted, I’ve noticed that the color separates. I packed a pudding with pink squiggles and got one with pink-and-white.

    Monica: I feel your pain, lol!

  6. thanks so much for sharing this. I have been trying to figure out how food painting is done since forever !!! I see them on great Japanese blogger mom’s sites but I could only drool at the pictures since I can’t read Japanese

  7. How fun and creative!!

  8. if i want to use cream cheese for the ‘painting’ how do i get colored paint? add fd coloring or juice to the cream cheese n mix?

  9. YL: All you have to do is add in a little food coloring, natural or synthetic, your choice :) The proportions you see in the article are one drop of coloring to one ounce of cheese or sour cream (I mix in one-ounce cups)

  10. That’s really freaking cool =D

  11. This is a thank you to Biggie for inviting Amorette to be the guest of the week. Really fabulous ideas and beautiful results. Amorette, you are talented!

  12. Amorette
    What are the natural food colorings I can use? I prefer to use natural food rather than synthetic

  13. Well, as some people earlier mentioned, there is the India Tree brand of colorings. They’re natural and they claim to be odorless and tasteless (in one sense of the word), but I have heard of a few complaints, especially the turmeric-based one.

    Juices, such as beet juice, are always an option, but may not be as concentrated.

  14. Wow, that is so cool! I`ve done some fingertip coloring with egg whites (making blue eyes on rounds of egg white), but never thought of mixing it with yogurt or cream cheese to paint with. We eat a lot of cream cheese, so I`ll have to try that!

  15. Cool! Peace love and bento. Painting is an added treat and for the food presentation.right?

  16. Amorette, this is really creative and something I never would have come up with. Excellent post and how-to! :-)

  17. Have you ever considered trying to use mayonnaise?

  18. This is all so cool! I never really thought of it but now I can use vegan versions. ^^ I love your website - it’s very informational and awesome.