Many think that a coloured Curaçao is something that only came up and became fashionable in the 1980s. However, this is not the case at all. Curaçao has been coloured from the very beginning. What evidence and indications are there for this in the surviving sources? Let’s take a closer look before we turn to the recipes themselves.
The various colours
Orange Curaçao was already advertised in the Netherlands in 1810,  as well as in 1817.  In 1829 it was offered in Frankfurt. [35-29.12.1829] In 1830 and 1832 the pharmacist v. Harinxma from Leuwerden offers it as ORANGE CURAÇAO BITTER.   In 1858, in the Evening Star published in Washington, D.C., a “double-orange Curacoa” is advertised for auction,  offered in The New York Herald in 1860,  and mentioned in an exhibition catalogue in 1861. [45-46] In 1871, an orange Curacao was offered in Toronto by Wynand Focking from Amsterdam. [37-10]
In 1843, Red Curaçao is offered in Singapore as a London import.  In 1852, red Curaçao can be bought on Broadway in New York, produced by Wynand Focking in Amsterdam.  In 1852, red Curaçao can be bought on Broadway in New York, produced by Wynand Focking in Amsterdam.  In 1872, a “red Curaçoa cordial” [36-434] is mentioned, as well as in 1864. [32-166]
In 1852, one can buy a white Curaçao on Broadway in New York, produced by Wynand Focking in Amsterdam.  In 1864, white Curaçao is mentioned for the Netherlands, and it is distinguished from the coloured Curaçaos. [38-301]
Green Curaçao is already mentioned in two different texts in 1866. [33-355] [34-82] This suggests that it must have been known in the years before, otherwise it would not have been mentioned in a description of the city of Paris and of Wimbledon. In 1871, a green curaçao is offered in Toronto by Wynand Focking of Amsterdam. [37-10]
One colour is still missing, in a way THE colour for a coloured curaçao: blue. Is this at least a child of the 1980s? Unfortunately not. As early as the 1930s, a Blue Curaçao is explicitly called for as an ingredient in mixed drinks. Our oldest finds are these:
- 1934 Anonymus: An Anthology of Cocktails. – Lansdowne Coronation Cocktail. [49-48]
- 1935 O. Blunier: The barkeeper’s Golden Book. – Blue Bird, Blue Devil, Blue Monday, Blue Train, Blue Ribbon, [50-82] Blue Cocktail, [50-83] Ladie’s Dram, [50-256] Stars & Stripes U.S.A.. [50-256]
- 1937 Anonymus: Here’s How. – Blue Lady, [51-21] Vodka Blues. [51-29]
- 1937 R. de Fleury: And All That. – Blue Barm Farm, Blue Danube, [52-34] Blue Lady, Bluebottle, [52-35] The Emerald, [52-53] Jubilee Rhapsody, [52-70] Little Aurdy, [52-76] Queen of the Ocean [52-92] Royalty, [52-98] Silver Leaf, [52-103] Thurlestone, [52-111] Varsity Blues, [52-115] Windsor [52-119], Cool Shadow. [52-194]
As we can see from the advertisement in R. de Fleury’s book “And All That” from 1937, there was also a Pink Curaçao on sale. [52-71] But even this colour was not really something new, as a look at the old recipe books for making distillates and liqueurs will show.
Let us summarise our finds, sorted chronologically according to the oldest evidence we could find for them:
- 1810: Orange Curaçao.
- 1843: Red Curaçao.
- 1852: White Curaçao.
- 1866: Green Curacao.
- 1934: Blue Curaçao.
- 1937: Pink Curaçao.
Against the background of these findings, it is hardly surprising that in 1951 a Dutch encyclopaedia mentions white, brown, orange and green as possible colours for a Curaçao. [46-77] Likewise, it is little wonder that the appendix to Jerry Thomas’ book “How to Mix Drinks” describes these possibilities for colouring liqueurs: blue, green, yellow, purple, red and violet. [1-129] [1-130]
How was Curaçao and other spirits coloured?
Before we look at the recipes for curaçao, we should take a look at the dyes used to colour curaçao and other spirits. A police regulation from Paris, first issued in 1830, is helpful in assessing what was used to colour spirits. The translation is somewhat difficult, as it is not so easy for us today to understand which colouring agents were meant. Therefore, it seems useful to us to first briefly discuss the dyes mentioned before we start with the translation, because a brief explanation of these substances, some of which are toxic, is of interest.
Which substances were used for dyeing?
Blue – Indigo is a deep blue substance with high colour strength that is poorly soluble in water. It is one of the oldest and best-known pigments and was already used in prehistoric times to dye textiles. In mammals, indigo has a low toxicity. 
Blue – Berlin blue is also known as Prussian blue and is a lightfast, deep blue pigment. It was first produced around 1706 by Johann Jacob Diesbach. Berlin blue is practically non-toxic. Berlin blue is considered the first modern pigment that does not occur in this form in nature.
Red – Cochineal is also known as carmine and is a red dye extracted from cochineal scale insects. This insect species originally comes from Central and South America. The production of the dye was known in Mexico at least since the second century BC. It was used to dye textiles. Carmine is approved as food colouring E120.   But what is “lacque carminée“? Carmine is also known as carmine lake.  A “lake pigment” is a pigment made by precipitating a dye with an inert binder or “mordant”, usually a metal salt. The term “lake” is derived from “lac”, the secretions of the lacquer scale insect from whose resinous excretory products shellac and dye varnish are obtained, and thus has the same etymological root as the German word Lack, or the French laque.  
Red – Bois du Brésil is called laque da Brésil in its processed form. This is the wood of Paubrasilia echinata, also called brazilwood, fernambuco wood or pernambuco wood. It originally comes from the coastal forest along the Brazilian Atlantic. Due to the great economic importance of this wood, the South American colony from which the wood originated was given the name Terra do Brasil and the country of Brazil was named after it. The wood was used to extract a precious red dye. It was also used to dye fabrics, which became bright scarlet or crimson, but often faded to reddish brown. 
Red – Orseille is a purple dye obtained from lichens of the genus Roccella. In ancient times, this dye was considered the most valuable dye next to the purple of the purple snail. 
Yellow – buckthorn is used for this colouring. Graine d’Avignon, literally “seeds of Avignon”, is the name for the fruits of Rhamnus cathartica, also called european buckthorn or purging buckthorn, a European species of buckthorn. In the past, the fruits were used to make painters’ “sap green” and the dried, mortared berries were used to make a yellow dye for staining wood in the 15th to 17th centuries. However, some sources report that graine d’Avignon comes from Rhamnus saxatilis subsp. infectoria. Buckthorn is used to produce the so-called “Schüttgelb”. This is a pigment produced by varnishing plant dyes onto a mineral substrate. It has been used by painters and is not lightfast. Poured yellow is also called yellow varnish, “stil de grain” or “persian berry lake”. It was usually prepared from the dried berries of buckthorn species. Different shades of colour can be produced from the berries depending on their degree of ripeness. Unripe berries produce yellow, ripe green and overripe purple. The name of the seed indicates its region of origin. The one from Persia, in French graine de Perse, comes from Rhamus saxatilis and Rhamus amygdalinus, the one from Avignon, graine d’Avignon, accordingly from Avignon.      
Yellow – Färber-Eiche (“dyer’s oak”) in German, Quercus velutina, also called Quercitron oak, originates from eastern North America. Its bark is used for dyeing, but also to make a colour varnish. The yellow dye is extracted from the inner bark and is sold commercially as Quercitron. This name is composed of Quercus for oak and citron for lemon yellow. 
Yellow – Fustic or fisetin refers to a yellow dye obtained from the wood of Cotinus coggygria. This plant is also called smoke bush, Venetian sumach or dyer’s sumac. Fisetin is mildly toxic and is said to be mutagenic, but according to some studies it promotes long-term memory and in mice it delays symptoms of disease and prolongs life. Many fruits contain fisetin, including apples, grapes, cucumbers, strawberries and onions.  
Yellow – Chrome yellow, also known as lead chromate, Paris yellow or royal yellow is lead (II) chromate. It was discovered in Paris in 1797 and soon became a fashionable colour due to its extraordinary colourfulness, especially as postal yellow. It was also used in painting. Chrome yellow is considered carcinogenic and toxic for reproduction. 
Yellow – Saffron is a crocus species from whose flower stalks the spice of the same name is extracted. It is one of the most expensive spices in the world. Saffron contains carotenoids that give it an intense golden yellow colour, and it was already used to dye textiles in the ancient Orient. 
Green – Schweinfurt green, also known as Paris green, is a copper(II) arsenite acetate and was used as a painter’s colour in the 19th century. It was valued for its colour intensity and lightfastness, and its toxicity was known early on. From the second half of the 19th century, it was used as a plant protection agent. It was discovered in 1805 by the Austrian Ignaz von Mitis and named after him Mitisgrün. The first industrial production was located in Schweinfurt. 
Yellow – Turmeric originates from South Asia and is not only used as a spice but also as a dye, for example of paper, varnishes or fabrics, producing yellow to deep orange hues. 
Violet – Bois d’Inde is a name said to be used in French for Pimenta dioica (allspice) and for Pimenta racemosa (West Indian bay tree or bay rum tree).    However, for these two species we could not find any indication that their wood is used for colouring. Rather, the bois d’Inde is also known as the bloodwood tree, also known as the bluewood tree or campeche tree or “hematine” in French, and botanically called Haematoxylum campechianum. The wood of this plant is the most important of all colour woods. The wood stripped of its sapwood has a dark red to brownish red colour, lighter inside and reddish brown to yellowish brown, which gradually turns dark reddish brown when exposed to air. The wood was used for dyeing fabrics.   Depending on the pH value and oxidation, a blue to violet colouration is obtained.  1846 a Conversations-Lexicon writes about bluewood: “Only the core of the wood provides the colouring material, the outer whitish wood or the yellowish sapwood is planed off. The campeche wood itself is heavy and sinks in water, hard, with a fine and dense grain, can be polished, whereby it takes on a bright red colour, and is almost indestructible; its prominent colour is blood-red, with darker and lighter nuances that go as far as yellow; from the outside, the pieces are usually black-red, if they have not been exposed to light for too long, whereby they fade; the smell is peculiarly violen-like; the taste is tart, sweetish, then bitterish. The decoction of the wood is dark red in colour, lightened by acids, coloured blue by alkalis, and also by various salts.” [39-384]
– “Bloß der Kern des Holzes liefert den Farbestoff, das äußere weißliche Holz oder der gelbliche Splint wird abgehobelt. Das Campecheholz selbst ist schwer und sinkt im Wasser unter, hart, von feinem und dichten Korn läßt sich poliren, wobei es eine hochrothe Farbe annimmt, und ist fast unzerstörbar; seine hervorstechende Farbe ist blutroth, mit dunkleren und helleren bis ins Gelbe gehenden Nüancen; von außen sind die Stücke meist schwarzroth, wenn sie nicht zu lange am Lichte gelegen haben, wobei sie verbleichen; der Geruch ist eigenthümlich violenartig; der Geschmack herb, süßlich, dann bitterlich. Die Abkochung des Holzes ist von dunkelrother Farbe, durch Säuren wird dieselbe aufgehellt, durch Alkalien blau gefärbt, eben so auch durch verschiedene Salze.” [39-384]
Pierre Duplais writes about bluewood: “It is easily soluble in boiling water and turns orange-red, but it is much less soluble in water than in alcohol. Acetic and tartaric acid turn the colour produced by bluewood yellow. Soda and calcium carbonate change it to a purple-red; by the addition of a larger quantity of these alkalis it becomes violet-blue, then indistinctly red and brown-yellow. Lime and baryte have the same effect.“[41-209]
– „L’eau bouillante la dissout facilement en se colorant en rouge orangé, y mais elle est bien moins soluble dans l’eau que dans l’alcool. Les acides acétique et tartrique sont virer au jaune la couleur produite par l’hématine. La soude, la potasse la font passer au rouge pourpre; par l’addition d’une plus grande quantité de ces alcalis, elle devient d’un bleu violet, ensuite d’un rouge obscur et d’un jaune brun. La chaux, la baryte produisent les mêmes effets.“ [41-209]
Pierre Duplais further writes: “The colours of brazilwood and Fernambuco, as well as those of bluewood, are red: To colour them golden yellow or amber, it is sufficient to add a few drops of one of the above-mentioned acids; but it must be observed that too much should not be added, as the colour will then become straw yellow, and the curaçao, when put into a glass of water, will cease to be pink; this inconvenience, however, might be remedied by adding a few drops of a solution of soda or calcium carbonate to the liquor.” [41-209]
– „Les couleurs de bois de Brésil et de Fernambouc, ainsi que celle de l’hématine, sont rouges: il suffit de leur ajouter quelques gouttes d’un des acides dont nous avons parlé pour les faire virer au jaune d’or ou ambré; on observera cependant de ne point en mettre trop, car alors la couleur deviendrait d’un jaune paille, et le curaçao, étant mis dans un verre avec de l’eau, ne pourrait plus tourner au rose; néanmoins, on pourrait remédier à cet inconvénient en ajoutant à la liqueur quelques gouttes d’une dissolution de soude ou de potasse.“ [41-209]
Coloured curaçao is not an invention of the 1980s. As early as the 1800s, people knew numerous ways to colour liqueurs. The colour palette included blue, red, yellow, green, violet and of course a mixture of these individual hues.
The Paris food regulations from the beginning of the 19th century report in detail which colouring agents were used and which of them were forbidden. These regulations illustrate the practice of liqueur colouring at that time, which is why we will look at it in the next post in this series.
- Jerry Thomas: The Bartenders‘ Guide, A Complete Cyclopædia of Plain and Fancy Drinks, Containing Clear and Reliable Directions for Mixing All the Beverages Used in the United States, Together with the Most Popular British, French, German, Italian, Russian, and Spanish Recipes, Embracing Punches, Juleps, Cobblers, Etc., Etc., Etc., in Endless Variety. To Which is Appended a Manual For The Manufacture of Cordials, Liquors, Fancy Syrups, Etc., Etc., After the Most Approved Methods Now Used in the Destillation of Liquors and Beverages, Designed For the Special Use of Manufacturers and Dealers in Wines and Spirits, Grocers, Tavern-Keepers, and Private Families, the Same Being Adapted to the Tteade of The United States and Canadas. The Whole Containing Over 600 Valuable Recipes by Christian Schultz. New York, Dick & Fitzgerald, 1862.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bay Bay.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piment Piment.
- https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bois_d%27Inde Bois d’Inde.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schweinfurter_Gr%C3%BCn Schweinfurter Grün.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safran Safran.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blei(II)-chromat Blei(II)-chromat.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fisetin Fisetin.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Per%C3%BCckenstrauch Perückenstrauch.
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cotinus_coggygria Cotinus coggygria.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/F%C3%A4rber-Eiche Färber-Eiche.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felsen-Kreuzdorn Felsen-Kreuzdorn.
Lexique de la peinture et de la dorure.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purgier-Kreuzdorn Purgier-Kreuzdorn.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kreuzdorn Kreuzdorn.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sch%C3%BCttgelb Schüttgelb.
- https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stil_de_grain Stil de grain.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lackschildlaus Lackschildlaus.
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_pigment Lake pigment.
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmine Carmine.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cochenilleschildlaus Cochenilleschildlaus.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karmin Karmin.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berliner_Blau Berliner Blau.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indigo Indigo.
- https://www.delpher.nl/nl/kranten/view?query=%22Te+bevragen+bij+ERVE+KINGMA%22&coll=ddd&identifier=ddd:010083521:mpeg21:a0019&resultsidentifier=ddd:010083521:mpeg21:a0019&rowid=10 Algemeen Handelsblad, Amsterdam, 2. July 1856.
- https://archive.org/details/singaporefreepre00sing/page/n207/mode/2up?q=%22Red+Curacoa+in+Pints+and+Quarts%22 The Singapore free press and mercantile advertiser. 21. September 1843, page 1.
- https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030313/1860-02-11/ed-1/seq-7/#date1=1789&sort=date&date2=1963&searchType=advanced&language=&sequence=0&index=0&words=CURACAO+ORANGE&proxdistance=5&rows=20&ortext=&proxtext=&phrasetext=orange+curacao&andtext=&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1 The New York Herald, 11. February 1860. page 7.
- https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1858-01-22/ed-1/seq-3/#date1=1789&sort=date&date2=1963&searchType=advanced&language=&sequence=0&index=2&words=Curacoa+orange&proxdistance=5&rows=20&ortext=&proxtext=&phrasetext=orange+curacoa&andtext=&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1 Evening Star. 22. January 1858. page 3.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blutholzbaum Blutholzbaum.
- https://www.otto-dille.de/farbholz-extrakte.html Farbholz-Extrakte (Natürliche Färbemittel).
- https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030313/1852-07-10/ed-1/seq-2/#date1=1789&sort=date&date2=1963&searchType=advanced&language=&sequence=0&index=1&words=Curacao+red&proxdistance=5&rows=20&ortext=&proxtext=&phrasetext=red+curacao&andtext=&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1 The New York Herald, 10. July 1852, page 2.
- https://archive.org/details/101236134.nlm.nih.gov/page/n161/mode/2up?q=%22red+curacao%22 Edward Parrish: A treatise on pharmacy. Designed as a text-book for the student, and as a guide for the physician and pharmaceutist, containing the officinal and many unofficinal formulas and numerous examples of extemporaneous prescriptions. Philadelphia, 1864.
- https://archive.org/details/everysaturday08unkngoog/page/n364/mode/2up?q=%22green+cura%22 Every Saturday. 19. September 1866.
- https://archive.org/details/bailysmagazines50unkngoog/page/n522/mode/2up?q=%22green+cura%22 Baily’s Magazine of sports and pastimes. London, September 1866.
- https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101080461617&view=1up&seq=1675&q1=curacao Intelligenz-Blatt der freien Stadt Frankfurt. No. 92, 27. October 1829.
- https://archive.org/details/encrcptspr00dick/page/434/mode/2up?q=%22red+curacoa%22 William B. Dick: Encyclopedia of practical receipts and processes. Containing over 6400 receipts; thorough information, in plain language, applicable to almost every possible industrial and domestic requirement. New York, 1872
- https://archive.org/details/cihm_92151/page/n13/mode/2up?q=%22orange+curacoa%22 Anonymus: Wine and its uses. Toronto, 1871.
- https://books.google.de/books?id=ZxoZAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=curacoa&hl=de&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjao8zli7XoAhVJCewKHUa4BSM4FBDoAQhaMAU#v=onepage&q=gin&f=false Charles Tovey: British & foreign spirits: their history, manufacture, properties, etc. London, 1864.
- https://books.google.de/books?id=h5q68V5WZbwC&pg=PA385&lpg=PA385&dq=blauholz+lik%C3%B6r&source=bl&ots=aEJhFEboQn&sig=ACfU3U0N95HeSeBXsH-lDHLUzf5bvfFTsw&hl=de&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjs1rDM95rqAhWC3KQKHRs7AkMQ6AEwEnoECAcQAQ#v=onepage&q=blauholz%20lik%C3%B6r&f=false Conversations-Lexicon der kaufmännischen Wissenschaften. Eine vollständige Handlungs-Encyclopädie für Bankiers, Kaufleute, Fabrikanten, Droguisten, Sensale und Geschäftsleute jeder Art. Erster Band, zweite Auflage. Grimma, .
- https://www.delpher.nl/nl/kranten/view?query=%22oranje+curacao%22&coll=ddd&maxperpage=50&sortfield=date&identifier=ddd:010516304:mpeg21:a0019&resultsidentifier=ddd:010516304:mpeg21:a0019 Opregte Haarlemsche Courant, 13.10.1832.
- https://archive.org/details/traitdesliqueur00duplgoog P. Duplais: Traité de liqueurs et de la distillation des alcools, ou le liquoriste & le distillateur modernes contenant les procédés les pluis nouveaux pour la fabrication des liqueurs françaises et étrangères; fruits à l’eau-de-vie et au sucre; sirops, conserves, eaux, esprits parfumées, vermouts et vins de liqueur; ainsi que la description complète des operations necessaires pour la distillation de tous les alcools. Tome premier. Versailes & Paris, 1855.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paubrasilia_echinata Paubrasilia echinata.
- https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camp%C3%AAche_(arbre) Campêche (arbre).
- https://www.delpher.nl/nl/kranten/view?query=%22oranje+curacao%22&coll=ddd&maxperpage=50&sortfield=date&identifier=ddd:010520250:mpeg21:a0012&resultsidentifier=ddd:010520250:mpeg21:a0012 Opregte Haarlemsche Courant, 22.05.1830.
- https://archive.org/details/catalogusderalge00haar?q=%22oranje+curacao%22 Anonymus: Catalogus der Algemeene nationale tentoonstelling, Haarlem 1861.
- https://archive.org/details/winklerprinsency12prin/page/766/mode/2up?q=curacao Winkler Prins Encyclopaedie. Twaalfde deel KEH-LOC. Amsterdam, 1951.
- https://www.delpher.nl/nl/kranten/view?query=%22oranje+curacao%22&coll=ddd&maxperpage=50&sortfield=date&identifier=ddd:010580347:mpeg21:a0012&resultsidentifier=ddd:010580347:mpeg21:a0012 Leeuwarder courant, 21.01.1817.
- https://www.delpher.nl/nl/kranten/view?query=%22curacao+oranje%22&coll=ddd&maxperpage=50&sortfield=date&identifier=ddd:010579141:mpeg21:a0013&resultsidentifier=ddd:010579141:mpeg21:a0013 Leeuwarder courant, 6.7.1810.
- Anonymus: An Anthology of Cocktails together with Selected Observations by a Distinguished Gathering and diverse Thoughts for Great Occasions. London, Booth’s Distilleries Ltd., ohne Jahr [wohl 1934].
- O. Blunier: The Barkeeper’s Golden Book. The exquisite Book of American Drinks. Zürich, Morgarten-Verlag A.G., 1935.
- Anonymus: Here’s how. Being a Symposium of Receipes of Good Cheer … A Dictionary for the Wine Connoisseur and a Most Helpful Guide to the Host and Hostess Who May or May Not Posses a Wine Cellar or Cocktail Bar. 2. Auflage. London, Victoria Wine Co. Ltd., 1937.
- R. de Fleury: 1800 – And All That. Drinks Ancient and Modern. London, The St. Catherine Press, 1937.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orseille Orseille.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurkuma Kurkuma.