Dye Easter Eggs Naturally!

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You don’t have to be a kid to be enchanted by a beautifully decorated Easter egg. You just need to look at the work of Peter Carl Fabergé, the jeweler famous for his outrageously expensive bejeweled porcelain eggs – to know there’s something intrinsically wonderful and perfect about an egg.

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Soft and subtle; naturally colored Easter eggs are a fun and healthier alternative to chemical dyes. [[photo: Signe Langford]]

From the intricate and precise lines and colours of Ukrainian pysanka, to the playful, haphazard crackle of a Chinese tea-stained egg, coloured or decorated eggs feature in many cultures; as part of a special meal, special day, or imbued with spiritual significance. The Greeks have a traditional Easter bread called

Easter Egg Bread.jpgtsoureki which is baked with red-dyed eggs – kokkina avga – braided right into the loaf. Curiously, the eggs get their subtle red color from being boiled with yellow onion skins, though sometimes, folks help this process along with a drop of red food dye, so don’t expect the super-red you might see on an internet search. I use beet juice to enhance the red from onion skins for my kokkina avga. So, start saving the juice from picked beets; not just to color eggs, but to make delicious pink pickled eggs as well!

 Sure, you can reach for food dyes to color eggs, but remember, if the eggs are going to be eaten or if little fingers are going to be dipped in and out of the color baths, it’s preferable to work with coloring's that don’t add potentially nasty chemicals. Foods, spices, and other natural ingredients can dye eggs pretty and subtle shades of yellow, blue, red, and purple.  The best part is that many of these magic ingredients might be in your pantry already!

Now, these colors won’t have the neon 'oomph' of chemical dyes, but I think they’re pretty just the same! Naturally dyed Easter eggs remind me of the ones you can buy at museum shops, made from polished stone and semi-precious minerals. It’s that final rub of oil that makes them glow so warmly.

Here’s a list of everyday foods and spices to use this Easter. And since these colors aren’t super-strong, remember to add a tablespoon or two of white vinegar to the water when hard-boiling the eggs; this will etch into the calcium of the eggshell allowing for better penetration of the colors. Those of us with fancy egg-layers have a bit of a head start; to make deep blue eggs from blueberries, I like to start with eggs from my Ameraucanas. For all other colors, white shells are best. But have some fun with color theory; blue egg plus red dye gives you a greenish egg, and so on.

Here’s how you do it: hard-boil eggs with about 2 tablespoons of white vinegar to every pint of water. Then, make little mugs or dishes of color bath, set the eggs in and allow to soak – turning now and then – for up to 24 hours. After 24 hours they are as dark as they’re going to get. Transfer to a cookie cooling rack to drip dry for a good couple of hours, then buff with a little vegetable oil using a rag you don’t care about – it’s going to get stained. And that’s it! Put them on display, eat them, bake them into your favorite loaf, or give them back to the hens, shells and all when the holiday is over!  

Colors from the Pantry

Turmeric added to hot water – soft yellow

Saffron added to hot water – earthy yellow

Safflower added to hot water – earthy yellow  

Beet Juice or Pickled Beet Brine – pink to red

Blueberries, mashed and added to a little hot water – soft blue

Strawberries, Cranberries, Blackberries, and Raspberries, mashed and added to a little hot water – pink to purple

Spinach boiled in a little water and mashed – soft green

Coffee – beige to brown

Tea – beige to brown

Soy sauce – brown

Red wine – deep red

Onion skins boiled in water and vinegar – soft red or pink

Red cabbage boiled in water – purple to blue


Chinese Marbled Tea Eggs

Here’s my recipe for traditional Chinese Tea Eggs. They have an exotic, savory flavor, they’re fun to make, and pretty to look at.  

(Having trouble with the link? Click here

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Signe Langford

Signe Langford

Signe Langford is the author of Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs; Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden with 100 Recipes. She is a chef, Toronto food writer and backyard chicken fanatic.

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