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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Natural Egg Dyes

This is all over Pinterest, but I'm so pleased with the results we had from our natural egg dying, that I want to jot down my notes for next year :)

I used the What's Cooking America website for ideas of materials to try dying with.  We tried spinach, carrot tops, beet peels, paprika, espresso, red wine, red onion skins, yellow onion skins and red cabbage.  Other possibilities include herbals teas (especially rooibos and hibiscus), other spices like cumin, saffron and turmeric and really, anything else you can think of that will turn cooking water a color when it's boiled.

Yellow onion skins, red onion skins, red cabbage, beet peelings, espresso and spinach

The day you decide to make the dye solutions, make sure you have LOTS of pots available and a couple of hours to spare.  I've only got 4 burners on my stove, so I could only boil 4 dye materials at once and had to wash pots out in between batches.

Also when you go to dye the eggs, unless you're going to do a bunch of eggs in a single color, have lots of little containers handy (1/2 pint jars were a great size for a single egg) so your kids can concoct special color combinations for each egg.

I hard-cooked the eggs first, made the dye solutions separately, and soaked the eggs overnight to color them.  If you make your dye solutions, then boil the eggs IN the dye solutions, the colors will turn out much darker and richer.  But then there's no mixing of colors for the kiddos.  And that's no fun.

We dyed 23 eggs in individual cups (you always lose one when you boil a batch, dontcha?) in a total of 3 quarts of dye solution (and actually had some left over).  Probably you'd use less dye solution to cover a bunch of eggs in one bowl than each egg individually ya know?  That's just to give you an idea of what kind of volume of dye solution to shoot for.

3 quarts total dye solutions
To make the dye solutions, I didn't do a lot of measuring.  For vegetal stuff, I put in enough to come about halfway up the sides of my pot (or as much as I had, in the case of the red onion skins and carrot tops), covered with water by about 1/2" and boiled.  For spices, I could only get about 1 tsp to dissolve per cup of water.

So here's my materials rundown:
  • Peels, tops and tails from 5 beets (cooked the beets for dinner) --> boil 30 minutes --> 1 quart dye solution
  • Skins from 4 yellow onions --> boil 30 minutes --> 1 quart dye solution
  • Skins from 1 red onion plus tops and tails --> boil 30 minutes --> 1 pint dye solution
  • 4 cups chopped red cabbage --> boil 30 minutes --> 1 pint dye solution (I could have gotten more of this dye with the same amount of vegetable just by using a bigger pot and more water)
  • tops from 1 bunch carrots --> boil 30 minutes --> 1 1/2 pints dye solution
  • 4 cups spinach leaves, finely chopped --> boil 1/2 the spinach for 30 minutes, add the remaining spinach and boil 30 more minutes --> 1 1/2 pints dye solution 
  • 2 tsp paprika --> dissolve in 2 cups boiling water --> 1 pint dye solution
  • leftovers from the coffeepot plus water to make 2 cups plus 1 tbsp espresso powder --> 1 pint dye solution
  • don't finish the red wine bottle --> 1/2 cup or so dye solution
Boil, strain, put in a jar.  Fridge until needed.

Dying was a lot of fun.  The kids each got a large measuring cup and requested mixtures of colors.  We Grownups poured the colors into the measuring cups to order, then the kids put an egg in a container and poured the mixture over.  No spills, no broken eggs...it was well-nigh an Easter miracle LOL  We poured a bit of vinegar into each cup afterward (about 1 tsp per egg cup), mixed gently with a spoon and let them sit overnight in the fridge.

Mad Color Scientist at work
Getting the wet eggs out of the dye baths requires a bit of gentle handling.  Some of the colors want to rub off very easily while wet (spinach and red cabbage particularly).  Some were sturdier even while wet (beets and the onion skins).  This is where one of those wire egg dippers could come in handy.

Color rubbed off the wet egg where my fingers slipped on it
I put mine on a cooling rack under a ceiling fan for a few hours, turning them once *very* carefully.

Once the eggs are dry though, no more color rub-off.  They will dry more mottled and speckledy than they look while wet, but they're still beautiful!

Beet dye
As far as final color results go, don't be surprised by what you get.  The dye may not be the same color as the plant material (yellow dye from carrot tops, blue-purple dye from red cabbage), the color on the wet egg may not be the same as the dye color, and the dry finished color may be different as well.

The 3 reddish dyes all produced rather different final colors.  The very intense beet dye solution gave a pale mottled pink.  The red onion skin dye gave a deep orangey red.  The yellow onion skin dye gave a solid yellow.

The red cabbage dye was not surprisingly the most striking dye.  Definitely want more of that one next year.  Since red cabbage liquid will turn different colors with acids/bases, I'm curious to try adding baking soda to the dye bath in place of the vinegar (not in addition to!) and see what we get.

Red Cabbage dye

The red wine had an interesting effect...sediment fell out of the wine and crystallized on the eggs, leaving the eggs a surprising mixture of blue, green and wine-purple with sparkles.

Red wine dye

The spinach was fairly pale.  I might try a greener green next year...kale or collards maybe?  When we combined spinach and carrot top dyes, we got more vibrantly colored eggs than using either one alone...perhaps I'll do a mixed batch of spinach-carrot top as well.

Whatever else we think up to try, we will definitely be doing this again next year :)  Happy Easter! Pin It

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