Although most of us now celebrate Easter with chocolate, candy-filled eggs, many people still embrace an older and more simple custom – the tradition of dyeing chicken eggs.
While there may be some uncertainty about the origins of this practice (the eggs are said to symbolize everything from Spring time fertility and re-birth to the empty tomb of Jesus), one thing is for sure – these little colored eggs bring delight and excitement to children around the world.
In fact, no Easter celebration is complete without colored eggs of some description. If dyeing your own eggs (perhaps even from your own backyard chickens) is one of the time-honored traditions in your household every Spring, this year why not go one step further and make your own dyes too?
Here is everything you need to know about naturally dyeing Easter eggs.
The Dangers of Conventional Food Dyes
Avoiding synthetic dyes completely is next to impossible. They are everywhere – in our food, our medication, and our beauty and hygiene products.
The safety of these artificial colors, which are derived from coal tar, has been debated for decades – they are said to be toxic, carcinogenic and contribute to ADHD.
Today, seven dyes are approved by the FDA for use in the United States. Yet, European research linked five of these to either ADHD in schoolchildren or cancer. British researchers found that, when food coloring was removed from the diets of 1,873 pre-school children, significant reductions in hyperactive behavior were experienced.
As a result, some colors were banned by the EU and others now require warning labels.
While it may not be possible to avoid conventional coloring in the foods purchased in the US, it is possible to limit your exposure to such additives – especially when it comes to baking and coloring goods in your own home.
Using Natural Dyes
This Easter, don’t choose store-bought colored eggs, or reach for a bottle of conventional food dyes to make your own. Your kitchen is full of natural dyes from common food items – an equally effective yet much safer way to turn plain eggs into colorful, Easter delights!
What’s more, kids will love the chance to experiment and discover just how amazing these natural items can be. Meanwhile, you can rest safe in the knowledge that your little ones aren’t being exposed to any potentially dangerous substances.
Read on to learn the natural products you can use to color your own Easter eggs. Below, you will also find details on the cooking process required to turn some of these foods into effective natural dyes.
In terms of Easter, blues represent the peace and harmony associated with the holiday. They also reflect the color of the sky and water necessary to bring forth new Spring growth.
Surprisingly, to make a blue color, you’ll need red cabbage – a powerful food full of antioxidant pigments called anthocyanins. Add four cups of shredded red cabbage to four cups of water and follow the cooking instructions below. The cabbage water will turn white eggs a nice shade of blue, while brown eggs will turn green.
For a more bluish-gray tone with a marbled effect, try mixing a cup of frozen blueberries with a cup of water. Unlike some of the other food based dyes here, there is no need to boil this concoction. Simply bring to room temperature and remove the berries. Add a tablespoon of vinegar and submerge your eggs.
Given that Easter is a time of re-birth, it’s no surprise that this color features heavily during this holiday period. After all, green represents hope, birth and renewal. It mirrors the color of new grass and leaves and symbolizes the emergence of new plants.
To dye your eggs green, simply peel the skin from six red onions and add to two cups of water. If you have no red onions on hand, try four cups of spinach or grass clippings per four cups of water. For both these options, follow the cooking instructions below.
Strongly brewed hibiscus tea, mixed with one tablespoon of vinegar per cup, will create a darker shade of green.
Many eggs are naturally brown, so you may not even need to dye your Easter eggs this color. But if you only have white eggs and want some brown shades, you’ll be pleased to know that a natural brown dye is easily achieved.
One option is to mix two tablespoons of dill seed in a cup of water, and boil as per instructed.
The alternative is to brew a cup of extremely strong coffee and stir in a tablespoon of vinegar before soaking your eggs.
Another quintessential Easter color, yellow represents the reappearance of the sun after Winter, the color of baby chicks and the feeling of joy and happiness that Spring time brings.
Yellow is quite easily achieved through natural products. Why not test out all of these methods to create a range of yellow shaded eggs?
For a rich yellow, use one large carrot, chopped, per one cup of water. You should find this to be a very effective dye, especially considering Fanta orange soda in the UK is colored with carrot and pumpkin extract (although the US version uses synthetic dyes).
Alternatively, mix one tablespoon of the super-spice turmeric per cup of water to create a vibrant shade on white eggs, and a golden shade on brown eggs.
For a softer yellow, use four bags of chamomile tea per cup of water. If you have no chamomile tea, yellow apples or orange peel will work well to produce a pale yellow. Peel the skin from six apples or six oranges and add to one and a half cups of water.
For each of these yellow dyes, you will need to adhere to the cooking instructions below.
Orange represents the dawn of a new day and a new season – perfect for Easter time.
To color the eggs a bright orange, mix two cups of yellow onion peels and enough water to cover them in the pan by one inch.
For a paler shade, mix two tablespoons of paprika per cup of water.
Again, you’ll need to use these ingredients to brew up a healthy dye using the method described below.
Purple is the color most commonly associated with the Easter season due to its religious and spiritual connotations. It’s also the color of royalty, luxury and creativity with lighter shades being associated with tranquility and calm.
To create a deep purple, soak your eggs in enough red wine to cover them completely. If you prefer to drink your red wine for its health benefits (like lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure) then whip up a batch of beet kvass – a fermented beet drink – and soak your eggs in this instead. Here is the recipe.
Lavender colored eggs can be achieved by soaking them in a cup of grape juice mixed with a tablespoon of vinegar. A bag of Red Zinger tea when boiled in water will also produce a light purple dye.
Natural Reds and Pinks
So many Spring time flowers are pink that it’s hard not to associate this playful color with Easter! And, while not a widely known fact, Easter eggs were traditionally dyed red to symbolize the blood of Christ!
For a dark pink/red, you’ll need two cups of grated beets and two cups of water and cook as per instructions.
For a more pastel shade, soak the eggs in full-strength cranberry juice for several hours, or overnight.
How to Make the Dyes
To make a batch of many of the colors listed here, you’ll need to follow these steps:
- Bring the food and the quantities of water specified above to a boil. Then turn down the heat, cover and simmer for 60 minutes.
- Allow the colored water to cool completely before straining the liquid into a glass jar or bowl.
- Add one tablespoon of vinegar for each cup of dye liquid.
Note: For every dozen eggs, you will need to use at least four cups of dye liquid.
How to Color the Eggs
Now that you have produced your very own all-natural, non-toxic food dye, here is how to put it to use!
- Hardboil your eggs, if not already cooked, and allow to cool.
- Wash the outside of each egg gently with castile soap and water to remove any residue that may prevent the natural dye from coloring the shells.
- Add the hardboiled eggs to the liquid dye. Refrigerate and leave to steep for several hours, or overnight.
- You will be left with beautifully colored eggs which have a naturally matte finish. To add some shine, rub in a few drops of coconut oil or olive oil.
As with many natural products, these homemade dyes can sometimes produce surprising results – you may be expecting a purple egg but end up with a green one instead…consider it all part of the fun!
Taking a Shortcut
Don’t have all the ingredients on hand to make a rainbow of colors? No problem – just mix up the primary three: red/pink, yellow and blue.
You can then mix and match these in various ways to create all the secondary colors you need. The resulting shade with depend on the quantities of the primary colors you have used.
Adding Designs and Patterns
If you’d like to jazz up your eggs, then before you dye them, why not draw shapes, pictures or words on the eggs with crayons or a piece of wax? The wax won’t absorb the color so the designs will show through, highlighted by the surrounding dye.
You could also use rubber bands to make tie-dyed eggs. Wrap different sized rubber bands around the eggs, leaving a little of the shell exposed so the dye can work its magic. Once dyed and completely air dried, remove the rubber bands and admire your design work.