How to Dye Eggs Naturally Using Nothing but… FOOD!

Last year, I was busily being more “motion” and less “homebody” for various reasons. First, I was pregnant and we were trying to get all possible travel in before babies (I was editing the original version of this post from a tropical lanai). And of course, we’d been booted out of our house while we remodeled in my second trimester. But it’s my very talented sister who was then — and always is, if I’m honest — the more gifted “homebody” anyway, when it comes to mind-blowing Pinterest-worthy DIYs, crafting, and making stuff in the kitchen.

So she took the reigns as guest blogger with this post about how to dye eggs naturally. And given it’s Easter season again, it’s time to bring this gorgeous post back for your DIY inspiration! (After Easter, this project is amaze for a baby shower or other springtime event, too.) Without further ado, check out the wizardry that is Elisabeth’s tutorial for how to dye eggs naturally:

“Last year when my son was in kindergarten, his teacher requested that parents send in some kitchen scraps for coloring boiled eggs using only nature’s bounty. Naturally, I thought, “Oh, this’ll be swell. I’ll send in my cabbage scraps for the kids to make their nature craft, and then run over to CVS to buy some Paas coloring kits for when we dye the pretty eggs at home…” Little did I realize that modern kindergarten teachers are nobody’s fools; one would never propose a craft project that wouldn’t produce a dramatic show to hold the interest of discerning five-year-olds. In this case, the spectacle lay in the power of simple foods to create effective egg dyes that not only cost very little but come out way, way better than Paas. This year, I decided to try my own hand at naturally-dyed eggs. (Enough friends asked me how I did it, so I was inspired to ask my sister to allow me to use this forum to share the joy…) First things first. This is totally SCIENCE. Frame it that way with your kids when you try this at home! What happens when we boil the eggs first and then dye them, versus boiling them in the water containing our dye ingredient? What happens if we use white eggs versus brown? There are no hard and fast rules about extracting the color from foods — pretend you’re a pioneer family and see what works best.

I’ll cut to the chase and start with the methods yielding the best results. Blueberries and onion skins, hands down. The results using both of these ingredients were consistent and rich, and the shells absorbed the dye well enough that I could create a spectrum of shades based on how long I left the eggs in. Shown below are our onion skin winners: the darkest is the result of boiling a brown egg in a pot with the skin of a couple of red onions, then leaving the egg to soak in the liquid for a few hours. The lightest was a pre-boiled white egg soaked briefly in the liquid from boiling yellow onion skins. You can get all the colors and shades from palest yellow to espresso by playing with your technique! DSC_0389 Next up were the blueberries. I used about a cup of frozen blueberries in a pint or more or water. Boil those little guys to release the juices, then pour off the liquid and use as dye. This is another example of how leaving the eggs in for varying lengths of time produced a pleasing spectrum of purplish shades, including a very deep, saturated number I call the Violet Beauregarde. The egg in the center is a brown egg, which led to some interesting beige speckling that I rather enjoy. DSC_0392 My results using the rich yellow spice turmeric were less vivid than the onion skin approach. If I tried it again, I’d boil the turmeric in water to try to better dissolve it, instead of just stirring it into some warm water. As it was, the process produced a mottled yellow shell with some reddish splotches. DSC_0394 Perhaps I should mention at this point that most egg-dyeing protocols will have you mix a tablespoon or so of vinegar into your dye mix, whether natural or artificial color. Vinegar is an acid, which aids the dyeing process by slightly etching the eggshell and thereby allowing the color to penetrate and hold. I did try adding vinegar to some of my mixes, but in most cases it didn’t make a difference in how well the dye stuck to the shell. (By the way, I also used some leftover Manischewitz on one of these; can you guess which egg in the first image is the wine one? Wine is also an acid, as is cola.)

Interestingly, as some of you might remember from this experiment in school, adding acid to certain solutions will cause the liquid to change color! Which segues nicely into a review of the next contestant: purple cabbage. I peeled off six or so of the outer leaves of a purple cabbage, chopped them up and threw them into a one-quart pot mostly full of water. After bringing this to a boil, I added a shot of vinegar and lo and behold, what had been a bluish solution was now magenta!  I tried using this to color a few eggs, then reboiled some fresh cabbage without the vinegar and tried using that bluer dye. Next time I will also try some of this cabbage solution with baking soda to try and achieve the elusive green! I suppose the results below would be more useful if I could remember which was which — I believe the mottled ones were the vinegar ones, and those with brownish mottles were brown eggs. (Next time I will keep better notes in my Laboratory Notebook as instructed by Mr. Fife, my high school chemistry teacher. I just hadn’t realized when I started that this whole thing was going to be so intensely fascinating.) DSC_0391 asteroids Finally, we will wrap up with the less-than-stellar results. First of all, I didn’t even take a photo of the boiled parsley-dyed eggs because that was a fail. (Next year I will attempt green by adding a base like baking soda to the cabbage solution as mentioned above, or by simply double-dipping a blueberry egg into the onion-skin water… who knows?) Another surprise fail: beets. I was very excited to use beet juice to create what I imagined would be fuchsia-colored eggs, and you know? It didn’t fly. I tried boiling chopped beets with and without vinegar, and also with baking soda. Equally weak results. Perhaps I won’t give up… next year with salt? Anyway, below are the weird results showing some piddling pink patches. DSC_0415_combo Before I go, I’ll tell you about one more variable. The reason we dyed so many of these suckers is that we have a bit of an egg bounty around here. You see, last year we got six baby chicks, raised them up in the bathtub and by autumn we were collecting all the cruelty-free eggs we could eat. This spring, we’re still flush with eggs ranging from white to green to brown! Since our eggs aren’t commercially processed, they still have the “bloom” on them (a protective coating on the egg shell that seals its pores to prevent bacteria from getting inside). Some of our dyed eggs came out great at first and then sort of shed their color as patches of the bloom sloughed off as shown below. At least that’s my hypothesis, Mr. Fife. DSC_0402

I rubbed a bit of vegetable oil into my eggs to give a nicely honed finish (but you could also use spray polyurethane, especially if you want your eggs to last a long time.) Well, that’s your natural egg-dyeing roundup! Thanks for reading, Homebody in Motion! Pin it now, resurrect it next Easter.”

Elisabeth Dubin is an architect in Davis, CA, who spends her free time conducting kitchen lab experiments without protective eyewear.

This post originally appeared on April 21, 2014

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1 Comment

  • Reply cp March 21, 2016 at 1:17 am

    Vinegar is used in artificial food dyes because they are acid dyes, and only bond to protein in an acid environment. Vinegar is not needed with natural dyes, because chemically they are completely different. It really has nothing to do with calcium in the eggshell. Adding a bit of alum can really help with the vibrancy of natural dyes though.

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