Weekly DIY: Natural Dyes for Coloring Eggs

April 4, 2007

We got a tip from the folks at marthastewart.com pointing us to an article Martha Stewart had published several years ago about making natural dyes for coloring eggs. I took a look and, after reviewing the directions, decided to give it a try.I initially thought that using natural dye to color eggs would give results with colors that are paler and subtler than the colors you'd get from a food coloring box. But if you look at the final results, you can see we got some pretty deep colors. They are also more variable. Because of the long soak times needed, these will work best if you don't try for elaborate decorating schemes, and just do solid colors.My helpful assistant and I were working to get things prepared and getting the dyes on the stove as we went along. At one time, we had all four burners of the stove going with various stages of the project. You can be less ambitious than we were and just try out one of these, to see how it works. Or, if you feel like tackling a project, you can try all of them.Each dye uses the same basic recipe:one (1) quart of watertwo (2) tablespoons of white vinegarand the selected dyeing agent (just one per pot):

  • 4 cups chopped red cabbage (half a head; save the other half to make slaw)
  • 4 cups of chopped beets (three beets)
  • 3 tablespoons turmeric (a good opportunity to use up the rest of that old bottle on the spice shelf and get a fresh one)
  • (Coffee, spinach, and onion skins can also be used for other colors. You can find details for some of those on the Martha Stewart website listed below. I didn't find a recipe for spinach, but I expect about 4 cups chopped spinach would be the recommendation.)

The red cabbage dye actually ends up making the eggs blue. Beet dye yields pink to red eggs. And the turmeric dye makes yellow. Coffee gives a brown coloration, spinach makes green and onion skin produces orange (though we didn't try any of these this time).To make each dye, put all the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, then turn back the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain out the chunks and pour the dye into a dish deep enough to cover the eggs. You can also put eggs in while you are boiling the turmeric dye to get a stronger gold color.

If you want to boil the eggs in the dye while it's boiling, you can do that with the turmeric (yellow) dye, and get some great golden yellow color on those. Boiling in the other dyes didn't produce a lot of color on the eggs we tried there.Hard boil eggs as you would normally. Then, when they are ready, set them into a dish of the dye and let them soak for half an hour to an hour. There are some combinations that can be tried, as well, but I had good results just with the basic colors. Martha's recipe called for a half-hour soak, but I wanted to see if I could get stronger colors, so I did many of mine closer to an hour, and was really pleased with the results.

If you want to go beyond a solid colored egg, you can draw a pattern on the egg with a white (or very light colored) crayon before dyeing it. The wax from the crayon will resist the dye and leave the white egg showing through. This is how we achieved the spiral patterned eggs you can see in a couple of the pictures.

After making our dyes, our used materials were able to go into the compost pile. This is a great project needing only minimal ingredients and a few hours time. Have fun, and let us know if you try this and how it turns out.

Links: Dyeing Eggs Naturally (Martha Stewart)

More dyeing pictures (Flickr)