Celebrate Easter with Natural Egg Dyes

Being healthy is about more than just what we eat. Being healthy includes making healthy choices in all aspects of our lives. And while there are so many reasons for you to want to do so, I’m going to give you nine of them.

FD&C Yellow #5, FD&C Yellow #6, FD&C Blue #2, FD&C Red #40, FD&C Red #3, FD&C Blue #1, magnesium stearate, zinc sterate, and, sodium lauryl sulfate.

Those are a number of the ingredients for what’s probably the most well known and best selling Easter egg dye kit on the market. And doing a bit of searching online can find all sorts of… well, things about the questionable health issues linked to those ingredients.

Colored Eggs

But that doesn’t mean you can’t continue to include dying eggs as part of celebrating the upcoming Easter holiday and the coming of spring. Natural dyes have been around for ages, and the results you can get with them can be both stunning as well as a cleaner, healthier alternative.

The premise behind this is pretty simple. You start with some sort of dyestuffs, add it to water and vinegar, soak the egg in the dye, then let it dry. Granted, there’s a few more details in there, but that’s the gist of it. Dyestuffs is a term for whatever it is you’re obtaining your color from. It can be fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices, or other plants.

You simmer whatever it is you are using to extract that color. Vinegar is added because it breaks down the shell of the egg a bit, making it more porous so it more readily takes to the dye. For my little tutorial here, I’m breaking the dyestuffs down in to three groups; whole vegetables, greens, and powders.

The whole foods I used were red cabbage and beets, but this would also include fruits such as different berries. Greens in this case include things like spinach, carrot tops, but also onion skins. I know, they’re not greens, but because of their nature I worked with these by volume, not weight. Then the powders would be ground, dry spices. There’s another group here that I should mention, but one I didn’t play with myself yet – other liquids. This would be things like teas, coffee, and juices (including wine).

Between things I was reading and my own tinkering around, I’ve come up with a basic formula that adjusts slightly depending on the dye stuff you’re using.

  • For whole foods it ended up being 4 cups water + 1/4 cup white vinegar + 1 pound vegetable
  • For “greens” it was 4 cups water, + 1/4 cup white vinegar + 4 cups loosely packed skins
  • For powders it was 4 cups water + 1/4 cup vinegar + 4 teaspoons ground spice.

Onion Skins

The overall process is the same, and pretty easy. In a medium pot add your water, vinegar and dyestuffs (vegetables, skins or spice). Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer about 30 minutes. Let it cool and strain to remove the solids and store in glass jars.

Dipping Egg

After the dye has cooled, you put add your hard boiled egg.

Eggs Soaking in Dye

Let sit for awhile,  the longer you soak the egg in the dye, the bolder, darker and/or more vibrant the color will be. The sweet spot for me seemed to be about 30 minutes. Onion Skin Dyed Egg Remove the egg and carefully dry, and that’s really all there is to it. That’s how I did those eggs in the photo at the top of the page.  As far as colors, there are lots of options… and some may not give you the results you would think of off the top of your head.

The photo at the top of the page has the four that turned out best for me.. the back row from left to right was done with red cabbage, yellow onion skins, paprika, and beets. Yea, I know. Red cabbage gives you blue. Whodathunk. Here’s a list of some ingredients to try and the colors you can expect to get, first up some whole food options:

  • Red Cabbage (blue)
  • Blue Berries (purple)
  • Whole Red Beets – magenta)

On the “greens” list there is:

  • Onion Skins, Yellow (orange)
  • Onion Skins, Red (red)
  • Spinach (green)
  • Carrot Tops (yellow)

And for powders:

  • Paprika (brownish-orange)
  • Tumeric (yellow-orange)
  • Chili Powder (reddish-brown)

I also want to mention some liquids you can try:

  • Strong Coffee (brown)
  • Brewed Tea, Black (brown)
  • Grape Juice (purple)

This list is far from complete, try experimenting with things you have in your own kitchen.

Beyond the simple instructions above, through my own trial and error I want to pass along some further tips though.

The spinach and carrot tops were rather disappointing for me. The spinach worked rather well, but the green that turned out was more like the color of cooked spinach itself, rather dull.  And the carrot tops, after soaking for half-an-hour was .. well could barely tell it had been soaking. I still have the dye, and may try doing them for much longer.

May “best” batch are the ones I soaked about 30 minutes, some younger kids may not have that sort of patience, but the four main ones I did all gave good coloration even after just 5-10 minutes.

drippedeggIf you just take the eggs out and set them on a towel or something to dry you may get “rings” on the bottom as the liquid pools around whatever the egg is resting on, sort of like the image here.  I was able to wipe it off and another short dip in the dye “fixed” things.

In the end, I ended up patting most of the eggs dry using a paper towel while gently blowing on them. But be careful not to “rub” the eggs as you will rub some of the solids that contain the color right off (see the image up top and the lighter spot on the egg done with paprika). Of course, doing this on purpose can also give a rather nice, decorative effect.

Speaking of decorating, there are some other options. One of the eggs I did, I drew on it with a beeswax candle before dying the egg. You could also use a crayon, most commercially sold kits usually come with a white crayon for doing this. Another option is using stickers, leaves or other items to prevent parts of the egg from getting dyed. The inhabitots web site has a great slideshow on doing this using small leaves.

I used rubber bands on a few of my eggs in order to get the white stripes you see in the photo above. If the dye is still a bit wet as you remove them, you may get some streaking… which can make for a nice effect. And because of the nature of the dye you get from red cabbage, you can “paint” your eggs after they are dyed using either lemon juice or a baking soda solution to change the color in a manner similar to litmus paper changes. The Kitchen Pantry Scientist has more on the science behind this one.

I’m hoping to also try doing some of these using hollowed out eggs. I think they could make for some nice decorations. If you do this, be sure to save the egg carton for storing them in! These eggs will have a naturally matte finish, if you want something a bit more glossy, try rubbing them down with a soft cloth that has been dipped in a touch of olive oil.

We still have a few weeks until Easter, so I may post some updates on other  attempts I make, other colors I discover, etc. I’ve got an album of all the photos I’m taking as part of this project in an album over on Google+, so feel free to check it out for updates.. and feel free to share images of your own efforts!

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