A Different Take on Egg Dyeing

I have a new obsession.  For once, it's not a kitchen appliance.  But rather an egg dyeing technique that ignores the cartoony boxes on the pharmacy shelf and instead looks to the spice rack and scraps on the counter for inspiration.

A few of the more granola sites I follow made various mentions of DIY egg coloring early in the season this year, so my interest was piqued.  I'd read about the technique in the past, but this is the first egg dyeing season in as long as I can remember where I actually had time to think about dyeing eggs at all, much less the technique I'd be using.  What began as a fun little internets research idea became one of the coolest kitchen science projects I'd ever gotten myself into.

[But Egg Dyeing Season kind of just passed...WTH am I posting this now?  Well, why is egg dyeing limited to Easter?  I eat hardboiled eggs all year around for sure, and since this method is non-toxic*, maybe you just found a new Saturday morning project!  Egg contents can also be blown out and used for another purpose before dyeing, creating lasting decor.  My mom has an egg I blew out and painted AT LEAST 15 years ago.  I digress.]

*Non-toxic for the materials I mention...some articles talk about using various flowers, and as a rule of thumb, if you could ordinarily eat a spoonful of the dye ingredient without croaking, it's probably non-toxic.  It's why I stuck to spices and foods, to be safe.

This was a first attempt for me, so I'm not for one line of type going to pretend that I'm an expert.  I didn't write anything down as I went, nor did I use any measuring implements.  I can, however, lead you to a few great resources where you can find helpful instructions.  I will, however, share a few tips and results below.


There are MANY sites out there, and while most of them seem to relay the same information, you'll soon notice that they all kind of have different results (for the sites who post result pictures, at least).  Check out the following, then do some googling of your own, but then jump in and experiment.

+ About.com has a good, basic guide with a comprehensive color chart.  If you read no other guides, at least read this one.

+ The Local Beet is a cool site in general, but their dyeing guide I found to be very realistic as their results were closest to my own.

+ A Seattle photographer made a very scientific, eye-poppingly beautiful, comprehensive guide to her dyeing experimentation.  She usually photographs people, not eggs, so don't be frightened by the Flash babies flying across the top of the page.

I first washed the eggs in a mild produce wash bath, to remove any residue.  Many of the guides recommend boiling the eggs with the dye ingredients for upwards of 30 minutes - since I intended to eat these eggs, and I am PICKY about properly-boiled eggs, I boiled my eggs first, created the dyes, and soaked the eggs overnight.

My key to perfect boiled eggs: cover with cold water, place pot over medium-high heat (uncovered).  AS SOON AS the eggs get to a rolling boil, cut the heat and cover the pot for 10 minutes.  Set the timer for this portion, because I promise, you will forget.  The whites are firmly cooked, and the yolks are bright yellow (no grey) and just cooked.

Turmeric seemed the obvious choice for a yellow egg dye, since it stains pretty much every surface it touches.  My pots are old and not that high quality to begin with, so I wasn't concerned about the mild stain it left.  But keep that in mind.  I mixed about 2-3 healthy tablespoons of turmeric with about 1.5 cups of water, 2 tablespoons of white vinegar, and boiled just for a few minutes.

Reading that red cabbage also had good color results, and having some on hand that was on the brink, I chopped about 1.5 cups of red cabbage and boiled them with about 1.5 cups of water.  I'd read somewhere too that alum (a pickling spice) was added to the cabbage mixture to bring out the color - I wasn't sure if it was the aluminum that helped the color to seep, or if it was simply the effect of changing the pH.  The questionable toxicity of alum alarmed me, so I ignored it as an ingredient.  Also, it wasn't in my cabinet, so another strike.  Instead, I added about 1/4 teaspoon of aluminum-free baking soda to the boiling cabbage, which did seem to deepen the color of the water / fade the cabbage a bit.  I also added two large tablespoons of white vinegar.  Open a window, phew!

I went with six "colors" in all.  The interesting thing to remember is that the water color in the jar isn't necessarily the pigment that will be absorbed by the shell - my bombastic inner science nerd loved this part of the process, trying to figure out what would make which.  I ended up with the following attempted group:

Red - Raspberry Zinger tea
Orange - Paprika
Yellow - Turmeric
Green - Boiled greens and lime skins
Blue - Red cabbage (all guides suggested it's a blue pigment)
Pink - Beet juice, strained from salt-free canned beets

Next time, I will use coffee filters to strain the liquids, as recommended.  I didn't have coffee filters and didn't feel up to running each dye through my tiny coffee press, so I kept it rustic.  All dyes were boiled on the stove briefly with a few tablespoons of white vinegar.

L to R: beet juice, paprika, red cabbage
Keep in mind that these dyes aren't as instantly-gratifying as the typical commercial dyes, and require boiling and/or long soaking periods for best results.  So I decided to do a cold soak in the fridge overnight, which might sound arduous at first, but full disclosure, I felt like it was Christmas morning the next morning, opening up the jars to see the results.

Top to bottom: beet juice, greens/lime, zinger tea, turmeric, red cabbage, paprika
This was the initial harvest!  I was enthralled.  The colors obviously aren't as bright as what one might be used to (except for that yellow...amazing!), but I found the process somehow more satisfying and interesting than the egg-in-the-color-tab method.

After allowing the eggs to dry for about a half hour, more surprises.  The initial purple of the red cabbage did in fact turn a pastel blue.  The beet juice also dried to a speckle.  The only color that really didn't have much of a result was the green, but I read that it's a tough color to transfer.  Back to the drawing board for next time - I'll definitely reuse the turmeric, cabbage, and beet juice.  Even though the tea turned a brownish-red, I liked the pattern stain.  I'll also likely add some fruit scraps as well as try the famous onion skin methods.  

Overall, it was incredibly fun, cheap, and earth-friendly, and I look forward to trying again!

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