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DIY Easter Egg Dyes

There are inventive ways to avoid all the store-bought dyes and chemicals when you're coloring eggs this Easter. It’s fun to do it yourself - and it's science!

Homemade Dyed Easter Eggs

Photo: Natalie DeWitt

You can decorate your eggs with various food items found in your kitchen: onion skins, turmeric, red cabbage and blueberries.

Celebrations Across The World

The history of coloring or painting eggs is long and varied, but in almost all circumstances, eggs are decorated to celebrate the Spring equinox, a peace offering, or to represent the rebirth or renewal of a religious figure.

The decorating techniques for these eggs, which are often hard-boiled for easy portability as a snack, are as varied as the religions and cultures through which they hold meaning. In Bulgaria, Russia, and other Slavic countries, a waxing process (called batik) is used to create intricate, brightly colored images on the shell of the eggs.

In the United States, Easter Eggs are typically decorated with store-bought kits, and the colors are achieved through artificial dyes and chemicals. The results are bright, and mostly fool-proof.

Homemade Is More Fun

Dying eggs is a fun experience for children and adults alike, but there are inventive ways to avoid all those dyes and chemicals, and you can teach children a little bit about dyes that occur in nature! It’s fun AND science!

To dye your own eggs naturally, you must have some patience, and you should probably lower your expectations. You won’t be achieving the electric blues, greens and purples that are common in the commercially available kits. What you will get are subtle hues of pink, robin’s egg blue, pale yellow green, and shades of yellow.

Here are a few food items that will result in some pretty interesting colors:

  • Pale yellow: lots of onion skins
  • Gold: turmeric
  • Pastel blue: chopped red cabbage or blueberries (frozen is good!)
  • Light green: chopped spinach or parsley
  • Red: rose hips tea, pomegranate, lots of red onion skins, canned organic cherries
  • Brown: coffee grounds, black tea
  • Pink: beets, beet juice, raspberries (frozen is good here, too!)
  • Orange: paprika, chili powder
  • Lavender: Red Zinger tea, violet blossoms + 2 tsp lemon juice
  • Purple: hibiscus tea, red wine

Different breeds of chickens create different colored egg shells. Shop locally to get eggs in a variety of browns, speckles, blues and greens. I actually had a difficult time finding local, organic white eggs, so do the best you can.

Trial And Error

I realized after I added the different dying agents to my boiling water that I probably should have created the dye water first, and then boiled the eggs in the dyed water.

My first approach was to start with cold water, turn on the heat, and toss in whatever extras were needed to achieve the desired color. The extras in the water settled on the eggs, causing white spots that didn’t dye.

Now, you get to reap the benefits of my mistakes!

  1. Hard boil your eggs like you normally would, making sure to add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar to the cold water before you begin your boil. While your eggs are cooking, you can prepare the ingredients for your dye water.
  2. Use at least 2 cups of water (remember, you have to have enough dye water to cover your eggs completely so they dye evenly). I used 4 cups just to make sure I had enough liquid.
  3. Add 1 teaspoon of vinegar for every 2 cups of water, and add your (preferably organic!) dye ingredients. If you’re using spices, use 2-3 tablespoons and 3-4 cups of the vegetables (1 cup water = 1 cup dye-stuff). I figured the more the better, so I just put everything I had on hand of one product into the water.
  4. I boiled the water for up to 20 minutes, or until the vegetables looked like they had been boiled into submission, just to see how dark I could get the eggs to color (the longer you boil, the darker the hue). Crush the boiled veggies in the water to get all of those pigments out, and strain.
  5. Put your hard boiled eggs in their dye baths. Use the dye when it’s hot! Also, be careful not to rinse or rub the shells because some of the dyes are delicate and will rinse off. You can place your eggs back in the egg container so they can dry!

A Rainbow Of Colors

Turmeric created a beautiful golden egg, and the cabbage produced a beautiful robin’s egg blue. The spinach turned the shells a very faint light greenish yellow, while the beets were successful in dying both my fingers and the eggs a vibrant pastel pink. The paprika and chili powder were a lighter orange color, but the results were similar to the gold color of the turmeric, but not as vibrant. The Red Zinger tea yielded interesting results: rather than the lavender that was described on multiple websites, the eggs were mottled with tones of gray and black and resembled polished stones. Not the result I was expecting, but neat regardless!

Just be patient and have a good time teaching the little ones (and your awesome friends) a little bit of science while they’re having fun.

Natalie DeWitt

Natalie DeWitt has degrees from Indiana University in Secondary Health Education, School and College Health Programs, and is now a PhD student minoring in food studies. Her primary research areas focus on virtual food, food identities, and school food environments. She is a self-taught baker and cook.

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