Adding a natural splash of green to your St. Patrick’s Day menu

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From shamrocks to leprechaun hats to green beer, it just wouldn’t be St. Patrick’s Day without the color green. When baking St. Patrick’s Day treats this year, ditch the dyes — there are so many natural ways to infuse culinary creations with an emerald hue.

A close up of food.
This St. Patrick’s Day, embrace natural green colors by adding matcha, pistachio and more to culinary creations. Photo credit: Erin Dooner.

St. Patrick’s Day, celebrated every year on March 17, is the perfect time to enjoy themed treats like a creamy green milkshake or a zesty key lime pie with green topping. And yes, it’s possible to create eye-catching green treats without resorting to artificial dyes. Matcha, leafy greens and spirulina can all be used in classic St. Patrick’s Day recipes to add that coveted lime-colored glow.

When and why did St. Patrick’s Day become linked to the color green? In a recent interview, Timothy McMahon, the Vice President of the American Conference for Irish Studies, traced the earliest use of green back to the Great Irish Rebellion of 1641. During this military conflict, McMahon explained, Owen Roe O’Neill used a green flag with a harp to represent a group that sought to lead Ireland. In the centuries since, Irish societies, poems and ballads all contributed to a rich tradition that linked the color green to the Emerald Isle.

Today, St. Patrick’s Day just wouldn’t be complete without wearing green clothing, watching the Chicago River turn green and eating delicious green treats. Of course, enjoying green food isn’t for everyone. Another fun way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day — without the wacky-colored food — is to add Baileys to an espresso martini instead of Kahlua. The result is a smooth, decadent and reinvigorating drink — the perfect way to celebrate the day without accidentally winding up with green teeth or a green tongue.

Matcha magic for vibrant green desserts and drinks

Gearing up for a big St. Patrick’s Day event or looking for a calm way to start the special day? Either way, matcha powder is a versatile and flavorful way to introduce a gentle hue of green into drinks and desserts. An iced matcha latte, for example, provides a gentle boost of energy without the coffee jitters. This chilled beverage can easily be scaled up to serve a group, making it the perfect choice for anyone hosting a St. Patrick’s Day breakfast.

When it comes to making matcha at home, there are a few considerations to take into account. Matcha can typically be found in two grades: ceremonial grade and culinary grade. While ceremonial grade is more expensive, it will result in a more vibrant color and a less bitter taste than culinary grade matcha. Culinary grade — although still delicious — often results in a more dull color.

Regardless of the matcha grade used, it can take a bit of experimenting to figure out how to incorporate matcha powder into recipes. For beginners, finding a recipe that already calls for matcha — like these matcha brownies — is a great place to start. And with a bit of practice, the possibilities become endless: Matcha cookies, truffles and cupcakes are all delicious options that can be made at home. 

Leafy goodness with spinach and kale

Looking for that St. Patrick’s Day pop of green, but not lucky enough to live near a store that carries matcha powder? There are plenty of other options when it comes to achieving that natural splash of emerald. For example, leafy greens like spinach and kale can add a subtle green hue to cake batters or frosting. Briefly steam the leafy greens, run them under cool water, squeeze out moisture and then puree the greens before adding to cake, muffin or dessert bread batter. 

If added in proper proportions, spinach and kale will contribute a gentle emerald hue to desserts, but won’t overpower treats with an aggressive taste. Plus, these leafy greens have excellent health benefits — a great choice for parents trying to sneak more vitamins into kids’ diets. 

Anne Mauney, MPH, RD, owner of fANNEtastic food in Washington, DC, agrees. “As a Registered Dietitian and mother, I often add leafy greens into my children’s smoothies and baked goods. They love the fun green color, and I love that the leafy greens are rich in antioxidants and fiber, as well as vitamins and minerals including potassium and Vitamins A, C and K.”

Avocado infusions, pistachio power and secret spirulina 

Beyond matcha, spinach and kale, there are so many more ways to bring a pop of green to a St. Patrick’s Day table. Avocado, pistachio and spirulina are all easily-found ingredients that will infuse desserts with an emerald shade. 

Buying a big bag of avocados is a great way to save money, but what happens when they all ripen at once? For a break from avocado toast and guacamole, try mashing up a ripe avocado and adding it to puddings, mousses or vegan key lime pie. Plus, avocado will add creaminess to your desserts and nutritional benefits, too, that make it a healthy choice.

From sweet, honeyed baklava to icy gelato, people have been adding pistachios to desserts for hundreds of years. And with good reason: pistachios give desserts a nutty, smooth flavor and a subtle green color. Cookies, cakes and ice creams are all excellent candidates for a dash of ground pistachio — or sprinkle some chopped pistachios over the top as a garnish or use them to outline a shamrock on a St. Patrick’s Day cake.

If you’re looking to take your baking game to the next level, you may want to invest in a jar of pistachio cream, spread or paste for special occasions. Pistachio paste — which ranges from 100% pure pistachio to products with added sugar and more — is a creamy, luxurious spread. Pistachio paste can be found at specialty Italian and Turkish stores, and — although pricey — will give desserts a gourmet feel.

Spirulina, a blue-green algae that can be found in health food stores, is another natural choice that will add green color to desserts. It’s an especially good option for treats that don’t need to be baked, like energy bites or smoothie bowls. Considered a superfood, spirulina’s health benefits make it a great way to introduce some nutrients into a decadent St. Patrick’s Day feast.

It’s easy being green

As the story goes, wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day is a way to keep safe from mischievous, pinching leprechauns. It’s hard to say whether eating green treats on March 17 can lead to the same protective benefits, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. From items that might already be in the kitchen, like avocados and leafy greens, to specialty products that pack a green punch, like matcha, spirulina and pistachio paste, there are so many ways to infuse desserts with a green hue worthy of celebrating the Emerald Isle. What will you make next?

Erin Dooner is the founder of Texanerin Baking, where she has been sharing easy and allergy-friendly recipes since 2011. A Texan now living in Munich, Germany, her passion lies in crafting sweet treats that cater to diverse dietary needs and lifestyles but without sacrificing taste. 

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