Question: Is one permitted to add a spice, such as black pepper, to a dish on Shabbat in order to improve its taste? Additionally, may one add turmeric to a dish on Shabbat in order to color it yellow or does this constitute the prohibition of coloring or cooking on Shabbat?
Answer: In a past Halacha we have explained the general points of the prohibition of coloring/dyeing on Shabbat and that this is one of the thirty-nine works forbidden by Torah law on Shabbat.
The Sefer Shiboleh Ha’Leket (authored by Rabbeinu Tzidkiyah ben Rabbi Avraham Ha’Rofeh, who lived approximately eight-hundred years ago in Rome, Italy) writes that it is questionable whether one may place turmeric into a dish on Shabbat as this may constitute the prohibition of coloring; however, according to the words of the Sefer Yere’im who rules that the prohibition of coloring does not apply to food, it is indeed permissible to do so.
We see from these words that according to the Sefer Yere’im that there is no prohibition to color foods on Shabbat, for this is not the usual method of coloring which the Torah prohibited. The Torah only prohibits actual coloring or dyeing, such as dyeing fabric and the like; however, regarding food which is eaten after being colored, this is not included in the Torah prohibition of coloring. According to this, it will indeed be permissible to add turmeric to a dish on Shabbat in order to color it yellow. Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 320) indeed rules that coloring on Shabbat does not apply to food items.
The Rama rules likewise based on his ruling that one may mix white wine and red wine on Shabbat and there is no concern of coloring. The Rama proceeds to support this based on the fact that one may mix eggs and mustard on Shabbat and although this is only done in order to enhance the egg’s appearance, it is nevertheless permissible and there is no concern of coloring on Shabbat. We can certainly infer that the Rama agrees that the prohibition of coloring on Shabbat does not apply to food items.
Cooking Spices in a “Keli Rishon”
Nevertheless, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l points out that one may only add turmeric and other spices to dishes in a “Keli Sheni,” meaning that one may only add spices after the food has been transferred from the pot or vessel it was cooked in to another vessel. However, one may absolutely not add spices into a “Keli Rishon,” i.e. the pot where the dish was cooked, for this constitutes the prohibition of cooking the spices on Shabbat and as a result of the boiling temperatures of the dish, the spices are cooked along with it. (Chazon Ovadia-Shabbat, Volume 5, page 32)
Summary: The prohibition of coloring on Shabbat does not apply to food items and it is thus permissible to add turmeric to a dish on Shabbat in order to color it yellow, as long as it is ready to be eaten immediately thereafter. (However, one may only add spices to a “Keli Sheni” and not into the pot where the food was cooked, as we have explained.)