Decorating Easter eggs is a fun tradition for many families in springtime. In the United States eggs are typically dyed bright colors by an inexpensive commercial egg dying kit that can be purchased most anywhere this time of year. Making homemade egg dye from vegetables is a natural alternative to the chemical dye kits, but does it work?
- Better for you – the evidence against synthetic dye safety continues to mount
- Better for the Earth – no chemicals to dump down the drain when done, you can compost the leftovers
- Gorgeous earthy hues are a nice alternative to the unnatural brightness of synthetics
- Costs money – buying the natural materials required can easily cost 5X more than the commercial egg kits
- Takes a long time – making the dye, then letting the eggs steep can be a 18 hour time committment
- Smells weird – I didn’t really like the smell of boiled beets and boiled cabbage filling my house
- Not kid friendly – sharp knives and boiling water do not make a great event for families with small children
- Not color fast – the colors fade very quickly and transfer off with handling
Dying Easter eggs is one of those family traditions I have always loved. Every year when I was young, my dad would cover the dining room table in newspaper and use the stockpot to hard boil a large pile of eggs. My siblings and I would watch carefully while he mixed up each color using hot water, vinegar, and the little dye tablets that came in the PAAS egg decorating kit. We always had a fun evening decorating eggs. My dad would tell funny stories about when he and his siblings dyed eggs while we waited for eggs to steep. We would make little tops out of the PAAS box and toothpicks, then have top spinning contests. We dipped eggs in multiple colors trying to make “plaid” eggs. It’s one of those childhood things I always remember fondly. Maybe it’s because it was a special activity that we did with our Dad. Maybe it was because of all the stickers that came in the dye kit.
I like dyeing eggs so much, I’ve even done it most years as an adult. There is just something I enjoy very much about having a bowl of rainbow hued eggs. Honestly though, it’s not nearly as fun to do by yourself. Last year I tried it with my little guy but he lost interest after only one egg. But this year he is three and is finally old enough to actually get it. I thought I would try out the natural egg dyes that some (including Martha Stewart) have recommended.
A quick survey of the internet give lots of recommendations for natural materials to use in creating natural egg dyes. Not wanting to go overboard, I chose four colors: Red (beets), Blue (Red cabbage), Green (spinach), and Yellow (turmeric powder). The beets, cabbage and spinach all needed to be shredded and then boiled for some amount of time to pull the color into the dipping water. The turmeric was an easy mix-in into hot water. With the distractions of a one and three year old underfoot it took me about two and a half hours to hard boil the eggs and prepare the dyes.
I mixed a small amount of vinegar with each of the natural dyes and carefully lowered the eggs into the liquid in large drinking glasses. Each glass was covered and placed in the fridge for an overnight soak. My three year old (who is not allowed to use knives or boil water) was somewhat interested, but had no way to participate once he ran out of “why”s. He continued to ask about the eggs for the rest of the day but I had to keep reminding him that we had to wait until tomorrow.
In the morning we carefully removed the eggs and surveyed the results. We had gorgeous blue (cabbage), magenta (beets) and bright yellow (turmeric) eggs. We also had some whitish-yellow eggs covered in wisps of green spinach slime. I mixed together some of the leftover cabbage and turmeric liquid (yellow and blue makes green?) and let fresh eggs steep for another 12 hours. The result was an interestingly mottled grey/blue/yellowish green. I really liked the way all the eggs looked once finished. Unfortunately much of the brightness of color faded away very quickly – within about 24 hours in the fridge. Also the dye transferred off the eggs any time they were handled. It got really messy just taking the photo of the eggs at the top of this post.
Overall, this was much more of a grown-up project than a fun family event. It took a lot of work, a lot of time, a lot of dishes, and had few “fun” moments. The eggs don’t keep their color, and transfer dye to anything they touch even when dry. When I think about dyeing Easter eggs, I want it to be a whole family activity that is minimal work and fun for everyone. The store bought dye kit fits the bill. And you know what? Because this is a once a year thing, and the eggshell is removed before eating, I don’t think that using synthetic dyes for Easter eggs is anything to worry about. Making your own natural egg dye? Interesting concept, but totally not worth it to me!
Have you ever made your own egg dye? Did I do something wrong? Please share your tips and tricks below!