Eggs come in a variety of colors – white, light and dark brown, pink, green, but this time of year, we look for more intensely colored eggs for Easter. Aside from the purchased tablets of concentrated food dyes, or liquid food coloring, there are many foods and flowers that can dye egg shells. They may not be as consistent, but the experimentation is a lot more fun.
You might not exactly get the colors you intend, but there is satisfaction in the process, and its a much better story to impress your friends and family with your trial-and-error efforts to “go natural”.
There are three ways to dye your eggs with foods and flowers:
- hard boil the eggs with the dye-source
- soak the already boiled eggs in a concentrated “tea” overnight in the refrigerator
- crush a dye source (such as fresh or frozen berries) on the egg
To allow the dye to penetrate the outer shell of the egg, add vinegar, to the liquid you will soak the egg in.
The science: Vinegar “etches’ the exterior of the egg and softens the outer layer to accept the dye. Soak an egg for too long, or in too much, or too strong vinegar, the shell will completely dissolve, leaving the tough outer egg membrane (which is popular with some methods of pickling eggs). Why? The egg shell is made of calcium carbonate. Vinegar is a mild (3%) solution of acetic aced. The calcium carbonate bond is broken by the acid, and the carbonate is released as carbon dioxide, while the calcium ions float free. The result the shell is dissolved while the egg and egg membrane are unaffected.
A teaspoon per 4 cups of liquid is sufficient. For more intense colors, add more of the dye-source (not more vinegar). The colors also vary with the length of soaking — as long as overnight (*ideally in the refrigerator).
One of the most interesting (and variable) ways to dye eggs is with onion skins. The problem is that you need a great quantity of skins (and who has that many onions laying around?) I’ve only done it once — after going to a produce store and asking if I could come in for several days and collect the dried onion skins. They were amused (to put it mildly). I came in three days in a row, and on the fourth, the shop presented me with a huge plastic bag of the onion skins. (I think they were getting tired of seeing me.)
I used six cups of onion skins (crushed) and four cups of water. Brought the mixture to a boil, and then covered and reduced the heat to a simmer and cooked them for 60 minutes. I let the onion skin “tea” cool before, straining, adding vinegar, and then placing hard cooked eggs in the mixture.
The red onion skins produce a deep red dyed egg, and when left in the mixture, can become nearly maroon (if not left for very long the color is more lavender/violet). The yellow onion skins result in yellow/golden/orange/brown.
Juices, and red wine, can be boiled (reduced) down to make a more intense dye. Bring to a boil and simmer on the stove until about half as much of the original volume remains.
Some things may be used ‘just as they are’, such as mustard, or red wine, or even crushed berries. The egg shells (and your hands) will pick-up color by coating them onto the egg, or soaking the eggs into a cup-full of the stuff.
Juices (out of the bottle) can be used to dye eggs, and, best if you add some vinegar.
Seeds, herbs, leaves, flowers require boiling, and simmering to become colorants. Simmering takes a length of time (30-60 minutes) to become intense. Cool, and strain. (Although, with the colorant can result in some interesting effects of mottling, and spotting.)
It’s not an exact science. It’s more trial and error. (Or, at least, it has been for me.) Fascinating, and perhaps time consuming, but also rewarding and interesting. And, depending on the original shell color (white, brown, tan, pinkish, greenish) the colors are even more variable and interesting. (Although, brown eggs won’t color as well as a white egg, obviously.)
The egg color result will be a matte color. You can add shine by rubbing the eggs with a drop olive oil dried with a towel. Sometimes the colors will be splotchy (because of the vinegar etched the egg shell irregularly).
Colors to dye eggs:
Raspberries, blueberries (fresh or frozen); the onion skins, beets and beet juice, cranberry juice, pomegranate juice, red grape juice, .cherry juice (concentrate), purple cabbage leaves (boiled), red wine, cinnamon, grape hyacinth blossoms.
Strong Coffee (or used coffee grounds), instant coffee, black walnut shells (boiled for more than an hour), strong black tea, dill seeds (boiled – 1 cup seeds/1 cup water), mustard, carrot tops (boiled), carrot juice, celery seed (boiled), cumin (boiled), paprika (boiled), turmeric (boiled), dandelion flowers, daisies (flowers and greenery).