I didn’t grow up with Easter as a religious holiday, but sometimes my mom would get the urge to dye eggs with the three of us kids. After all, eggs are really fun to decorate and they’re even more fun to eat as deviled eggs, egg salad, or simply “as is.” One Easter, when I was about 7, we dyed our eggs using a very popular coloring kit. After decorating, hiding and finding all of the eggs, my brothers and I cracked a few open to eat. It suddenly struck me that the egg—the edible part—had taken on some of the dye. Green, blue, and pink hardboiled eggs certainly tasted the same, but I remember thinking, “What is in that dye?” Have any of us every really considered what those cute little “dye pills” are made of, or how those ingredients might impact the health or safety of the eggs, and our children?
Artificial colorings are used in a lot of processed foods, but some studies have shown that these seemingly harmless dyes may actually be responsible for allergies, ADHD and some cancers. Ever wonder why you break out in hives after you eat a particular food? Well, according to the Food and Drug Administration, one in 10,000 people is allergic to Yellow No.5, which is commonly used in soda and candy. And according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, artificial food dyes have been shown to damage DNA in mice. These are the same dyes we are using on our Easter eggs.
If you’re thinking about dying eggs this weekend, why not skip the possible risks and dye your eggs with plants instead? These plant dyes are completely non-toxic and—best of all—you probably have most of the ingredients sitting in your kitchen cabinet or refrigerator. While these natural pigments may not be as ultra-bright and fluorescent as store-bought dyes, they do produce beautiful eggs that you can feel good about eating. Plus, it is a fun and educational way to teach your kids about the uses of plants for making traditional dyes for everything from porcupine quills and feathers, to fur and rawhide.
Remember, most natural dyes need what is called a “mordant.” A mordant is essentially a compound that allows the dye to “stick” or adhere to a material. The best natural mordant for dyeing eggs is, of course, vinegar. For these recipes, simply add about two tablespoons of white vinegar to a quart of water, and then add the amount indicated for each plant. Also, don’t forget, the longer you leave the eggs in the dye, the darker the dye will be. Some folks even leave the eggs immersed in the dye overnight in the fridge. After you dye your eggs, try polishing them with a little olive or vegetable oil to give them a soft shine.
Beet juice (½ quart) – dark pink
Paprika (4-5 tablespoons) – reddish orange
Cranberry juice (do not dilute with water, add 2 TB vinegar per quart of juice) – light pink
Curry Powder (4 tablespoons) – pale orange
Onion skins (4 cups, packed) – dark orangish-brown
Turmeric (4 tablespoons) – bright yellow
Green tea (4 tea bags) – pale yellow
Birch leaves, fresh or dried (4 cups, packed) – golden yellow
Lemon peels (4 – 5 cups) – pale yellow
Coffee (do not dilute, add 2 TB vinegar per quart of coffee) – chocolate brown
Black Tea (4 tea bags) – beige
Chili Powder (3 TB) – light brown
Blueberries (2 cups) – lavender
Grape juice (do not dilute, add 2 TB vinegar per quart of juice) – bluish gray
Red cabbage (4 cups chopped, boil in water) – bright blue
Spinach or nettle leaves (4 cups, packed) – pale green
Red onion skins (2 cups packed) – grassy green