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Natural egg dyes, simplified

Four dyes, many colors

We’re moving soon after Easter, so I haven’t exactly been looking forward to making from-scratch egg dyes this year. It’s not hard. It’s not even time-consuming. But when your house is turned upside down and you’re purging most of what you own, well, who needs one more thing to do, you know? So you’ll understand my recent impulse purchase: a natural egg-dyes kit from the Natural Candy Store (where the resident Easter bunny also shops). I haven’t gotten it yet, but, when I do, I’ll report back on how it works.

And for those of you not stressing over a big move? The web is awash in tutorials for homemade natural dyes, one more elaborate than the next, with detailed instructions and fancy techniques and killer photography. And kudos to all those kitchen-crafty people who make things so darn pretty.

But here’s what we do, egg dyeing at its simplest (with recipes inspired by my friend Kris Bordessa of Attainable Sustainable):

1. Hard-boil a bunch of eggs. Doesn’t matter if they’re white or pastel or brown. Each one lends itself to great color variations. (But choose local, pastured eggs if you can. Check out Local Harvest for why that’s important and where you can find good eggs near you.)

2. On your stove, set out four pots* with two cups of water each.

3. To one pot, add a hefty teaspoon of turmeric powder (that’s your yellow). To another, add a couple handfuls of chopped red beets, either fresh or jarred (that’s pink). To a third, add two cups of frozen blueberries or blackberries (your blue). Bring the pots to boiling, then let them simmer five minutes.

4. For the fourth pot, boil the water separately, then turn off the heat and add the contents of six chlorophyll capsules, which can be found in natural-foods stores (that’s your green).

5. After everything has cooled, strain out the chunky bits, then add a teaspoon of vinegar to each the beets (pink) and berries (blue).

6. Dunk eggs. Maybe mark them with crayons for fun designs. Keep dunking and cross-dunking and letting them soak a bit until you get colors you like. Be happy.

Well. That’s even simpler than I remember. Now I’m wondering why I bought that kit after all!

If you’d like to turn egg-dyeing into an egg-speriment, check out this post from last year, in which I describe using DIY egg dyes for a lesson in real vs. fake colors. That post also has links to some of those uber kitchen-crafty folks, in case you’d like to get fancy with your eggs. For my kind of fancy (i.e., easy), check out these marbled eggs that use a fun mishmash of  materials.

Finally: Why bother with natural dyes? It’s fun, for one. But it’s also safer. Artificial food colors exist solely to trick and manipulate. They’re linked to long-term health problems. They can have devastating effects on children’s behavior and ability to learn. And government regulators and food manufacturers have failed to prove dye safety. In short: All risk. No benefit. And who needs that in their Easter basket?

Spoonfed is on Facebook. You’ll find links to blog posts, news and commentary on raising food-literate kids, questions and comments from readers, voices, viewpoints, the works. Stop by, like the page, chime in, spread the word. (Thanks.)

*If you don’t have four pots, use a teapot to boil the water for the chlorophyll capsules. That one doesn’t need to simmer, so you can easily pour out two cups of water and mix the green in a separate bowl.

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{ 11 comments… add one }

  • Christie O. March 28, 2012, 8:29 am

    I am SO.GLAD. I found your blog! It makes me not feel crazy! I recently starting purging preservatives (i.e. everything we own) from our pantries and now I’m on the colorings too. My son developed a tic and I’m not sure if it’s because of sensitivities to the crap or something neurological but I am exploring both. Either way, MY EYES HAVE BEEN OPENED and I cannot go back. I loved your post from last year on your daughter’s birthday cake (thanks for the dye suggestion as we are coming up on a birthday party for my son and I am hoping to avoid a store-bought birthday cake this year). I am now to the point that we are ok with our stuff but I’m battling the rest of the world (classroom treats, grandparents, playdates etc.) when it comes to food. I feel like the crazy one because no one seems to pay attention to all the chemicals, in fact until recently I was one of them. Anyway, thanks for the post, if you don’t mind, I’m going to link to you in my Easter post that’s going up next week. Thanks so much!

    • Christina March 28, 2012, 1:06 pm

      Christie: The more of us making noise, the less crazy we become… LOL. And yes, please, link away!

    • Jumbly April 9, 2012, 7:47 pm

      My son’s preschool classmate had a minor tic that gradually got worse and worse over the course of a year–it looked like severe muscle spasms in his head and neck. At the urging of a concerned relative, his mother brought him to an unconventional doctor who either advertised or had a call-in show on local radio. The doctor asked questions about the boy’s diet and found he was drinking about a gallon of milk a day. Not organic milk, just regular old industrial milk in a plastic jug, might even have been skim. “Stop the dairy”, the doctor said. They did, and they were astounded at the speed with which the tic disappeared. Virtually overnight.

  • Becky March 30, 2012, 8:07 pm

    Check this out… Yikes! And we’re worried about eating eggs that have only been dyed on the outside.


  • Sundari April 1, 2012, 10:57 am

    What a fantastic post! Love the concept and the eggs look beautiful.

  • Tanya April 8, 2012, 8:37 pm

    This seems much simpler than the method I followed. We used the tumeric (worked beautifully) and the beet (not as well, didn’t take to the eggs). I wish I had known about the chlorophyll, and we used red cabbage for blue (no go there). Overall, the results still came out pretty nice, but this would have helped! Next year:-).

  • Uly April 12, 2012, 5:22 pm

    What do you do with your onion skins?

  • Kristen April 19, 2012, 7:32 am

    Great post, thanks! This method is very nice for pastel eggs and allows the kids to have fun dying eggs the natural way!!. If you want vibrant eggs it does take a bit more time. I just wanted to share something that we do for Greek Easter and it makes absolutely gorgeous colored eggs (we use daffodils for yellow eggs). It is an adult job though (or an older kid!) but it does make very vibrant colors. Let’s take red for instance (the reader mentioned the onion skins in above comment). Basically you boil a lot of onion skins. I used the skins of four large yellow onions for a half dozen eggs but I should have used more – generally about 15 onions will be “skinned.” The best way to do this is save the skins from your onions a month or two before Easter and you’ll have plenty. Bring onion skins with 4 & 1/2 cups water and 2 tablespoons *white* vinegar to a boil. Let this mixture boil for 30 minutes. Then strain, then cool to room temperature. Put strained liquid in a pot and add your RAW eggs, bring to a simmer. Simmer 12-20 minutes (no more than 20 – your eggs will be waaay overcooked. You are better off going for around 13 min and then allowing the eggs to sit) until desired color is reached. For Greek Easter we like our eggs RED so I let mine sit in that liquid for an hour. And WOW, they came out a deep burgundy. You can do this method with any of the above natural dyes to achieve a more vibrant hue. But this is not as much fun for the kids as it requires cooking the eggs in the dye and simply allowing them to sit in that dye until the color is reached. I always do a few that the kids do with the method listed above and a few the I do with the method I just stated. Although the kids still can be involved with this process – they can gather up ingredients (daffodils, onion skins, coltfoot) and put them into the water. Then after the water is cooled and put back in the pots they can gently add the raw eggs. As a kid this is what I would get to do and it is fun to watch an adult take a slotted spoon at various times so I could see the eggs getting darker and darker! Plus once you take the eggs off the heat and allow the liquid to cool with the eggs in them, the kids can remove the eggs and dip them in other pots for fun wacky colors! But obviously, it is more time consuming – though for us it was usually a midmorning to midafternoon day of decorating (with yummy foods and good company) so it was fun and special.

    You can get some gorgeous yellows (daffodils, tumeric is good too as well as carrot tops, cosmos, goldenrod or marigolds (dried!)), blues (handful of woad, herb in mustard family, or 2 cups chopped red cabbage), reds (onion skins – onion skins can also make gold if you use the method described by Spoonfed), orange (paprika), green (handful of coltfoot or take 1 part of the strained cooled yellow liquid and 1 part of strained cooled blue liquid and then boil the eggs in that) and a pretty speckled brown (coffee grounds or for less speckled around 4 black tea bags). Also some good old fashioned experimenting can lead to some fun results, most spices and botanicals will yield some result (some of course won’t, but I usually reserve an egg or two for random experimentation). Have fun!

    • Kristen April 19, 2012, 7:42 am

      Foget to mention – your raw eggs should be room temperature when you add them to the cooled liquid (to avoid cracking). Also all colors are improved by boiling your original mixture longer whether you do it the way I stated or the way that is outlined in the post above. So if you have longer than 5 minutes, let the mixture boil for up to 30 minutes and then cool and then let your kids go to town with their eggs! The boiling allows more of the natural dyes to leach out from the herbs/botanicals/berries/etc. One final note, Greeks like to polish up their eggs with a bit of olive oil. Just a paper towel and a little oil will really brighten up your colors regardless of the method used!

  • Holly March 28, 2013, 11:03 am

    We’ve done this before too. We use red cabbage for blue and it makes a gorgeous robin egg color! Some of them we let sit overnight in the dye to get darker ones. I got green from mixing a little red cabbage with some turmeric. the liquid will look purple but it actually works to make a green! It was an experiment one year, I totally didn’t expect it to work. Grape juice makes a good purple too!

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