Ingredients for creating amazing food art from an edible colour palette

There are so many creative ways to work with food, from innovative use of ingredients to cleverly deconstructed dishes. Artistic representation of food is a popular trend and it’s pretty much impossible to scroll through your Instagram feed without seeing an image of an impeccably decorated smoothie bowl or ‘cute food’ item designed to please the eyes before the taste buds.

In a culture where the camera eats first it’s often a compromise between what looks good and how it actually tastes (we’ve even heard confessions that those beautiful smoothie bowls are filled with mashed potatoes underneath!) While you might not want to compromise on taste at your local cafe, when you are creating your own food inspired imagery you can blur the lines between aesthetic and edible to let your creativity flourish.

Some artists, like Harley from @harleysfood_art on Instagram, prefer to ignore their palate altogether and focus on the colour palette of the food instead. Luckily when it comes to using your plate purely as a canvas there is only one objective - make beautiful art using edible ingredients!

Harley was kind enough to share some of his trade secrets with us so that you can also try your hand at creating some edible art. We’ve mapped out all the colours of the food rainbow as well as sharing his top tips and tricks for cutting and assembling your creation. Are you ready to get creative and play with your food?

Harley’s Keith Haring inspired art for Pride created with eggplant, radish, apple, lemon, carrot, zucchini, red cabbage, and mashed potatoes dyed with natural food coloring.  Image via @harleysfood_art on Instagram

Harley’s Keith Haring inspired art for Pride created with eggplant, radish, apple, lemon, carrot, zucchini, red cabbage, and mashed potatoes dyed with natural food coloring. Image via @harleysfood_art on Instagram

All the edible colours of the food rainbow

As you are planing your edible work of art it helps to begin with a good understanding of which ingredients you can use to achieve the colours and textures you will need to create your image. Many food items have different interior and exterior colours and others can be dyed to achieve tones that may not be naturally occurring.

Here is our list of all the top ingredients of the food rainbow:

Pink: Smoked salmon, pickled ginger, pickled radish
Red: Strawberries, Swiss Chard, apple, red capsicum, radish (outside)
Orange: Carrots, oranges, mandarine 
Yellow: Pineapple, yellow capsicum, lemon, corn, mango
Green: Lime, peas, spinach, broccoli, green capsicum, kiwi
Blue: Blueberries, blue spirulina powder
Purple: Red cabbage, purple eggplant, red onion, purple dragonfruit
White: Turnip, mushroom, hard boiled eggs, bean sprouts, bread, potatoes, rice
Black: Eggplant, seaweed, olives
Brown: Portobello or shiitake mushroom, bread, prunes, peanut butter
Grey: Squid ink dyed mashed potatoes

Expert Tip: To achieve a variety of tones or unusual colours like blue or bright yellow Harley’s tip is to dye food like mashed potatoes or noodles. For greys, and browns he recommends using soy sauce or squid ink. Spirulina varieties come in blue or green and turmeric can add a lovely dash of yellow to your creation.

Harley’s shrimp created with bell pepper, habanero pepper, Fresno chili pepper, rice noodles, eggplant, red cabbage, ginger, sweet potato skin, and seasoned salt.  Image via @harleysfood_art on Instagram

Harley’s shrimp created with bell pepper, habanero pepper, Fresno chili pepper, rice noodles, eggplant, red cabbage, ginger, sweet potato skin, and seasoned salt. Image via @harleysfood_art on Instagram

Composing your art on a plate

There are many options for achieving different colours with your ingredients but before you go shopping you will need to decide how you will compose the structure of your creation. When you are mapping out the artwork you want to build there are several layers of your composition to consider.

Firstly the base, what is going to comprise the main shape or underneath layer of your shot? Harley often uses mash or puree to form the base of his food art which can be moulded into position. For texture he uses loose or chopped food and adds noodles for har. The next layer defines the structure and shapes of the composition, Harley recommends using items like capsicum or harder vegetables such as zucchini or squash as these are easier to cut into defined shapes. Finally you want to add your defining details such as eyes or lines, black or white foods that are easily sliced such as eggplant or radish are perfect for this step.

The structure of the image below is as follows:

Skin: Dyed mashed potatoes
Hair: Dyed or Squid ink noodles
Hat and Dress: Eggplant
Eyes and details: Turnip and Eggplant

Best food for creating art on a plate

Best Soft Foods for sculpting and moulding: Mashed potato, purees, peanut butter
Best Hard foods for cutting shapes: Eggplant, peppers, zucchini, squash
Best foods or techniques for creating texture: Mushrooms, purées (green peas, split pea, lentil)
Best foods for details and accents: Peppercorns, eggplant, turnip 

Expert tip: Harley uses a large sharp knife for the larger cuts and a small sharp knife or exacto knife for the finer cuts. He keeps the plate clean using a damp paper towel to remove stray food. 

Sneaker art made with carrot, turnip, mashed potatoes dyed with natural food coloring.  Image via @harleysfood_art on Instagram

Sneaker art made with carrot, turnip, mashed potatoes dyed with natural food coloring. Image via @harleysfood_art on Instagram

Hopefully this blog has helped you with some ideas of how to work with food to create an image, of course it is up to you to decide what that image looks like. If you are stuck for ideas why not try and recreate a piece of art you love, create a portrait of a person or animal or even an object like Harley’s sneaker above.

If you are looking for more inspiration on what food to use to compose your work of edible art than look no further than Harley’s instagram account @harleysfood_art where he kindly shares the ingredients for each image in the caption.