Easter Eggs without Food Coloring

By Carolyn Shearlock, copyright 2011 . All rights reserved.

Natural Easter Egg Dyes

My dad was Ukrainian and Ukrainians are known for their amazing Easter egg artwork.  And when I was a kid, we’d have neighborhood coloring parties, although we never made the works of art that grandma did.

With Easter approaching, I started thinking about how “kid boats” could color eggs without a kit or even food coloring (which we rarely found while cruising).  It seemed like a natural for The Boat Galley.

A couple of weeks ago, I began researching “natural” coloring for Easter eggs, made from various foods.  I found numerous sites that pretty much gave the same list of “dyes.” And as I began testing, I quickly came to the conclusion that most of the people who gave these lists had never tried them.

Most just plain didn’t work.  While they dyed my fingertips all sorts of wonderful colors, I ended up with lots of plain white eggs.  Lesson:  don’t trust sites without photos of their own work!

Finally, after eating a lot of egg salad and potato salad made from all those hard-boiled eggs, I found several dyes that worked and could be made with items found on a typical boat, and perfected my technique.

From the bright red egg on the left and going around clockwise, the dyes that worked for me (more on the techniques I used below):

  • Extremely concentrated cherry-flavored Crystal Lite.
  • Yellow onion skins (also used for the egg in the center)
  • Blueberries
  • Beet juice
  • Coffee

Ones that I read about that did not work at all (defined as very little color absorption in 3 hours):

  • Spinach
  • Grass
  • Cherries
  • Wine
  • Carrots
  • Lemon peels
  • Grape juice
  • Any sort of flower petal
  • Chili powder
  • Paprika
  • Cocoa powder

Two that I have not tried, but which I think might work based on the experiments I did:

  • Red onion leaves
  • Tumeric

The Method

I started with hard-boiled eggs (see my tips on making hard-boiled eggs without a green line on the yolk).  If you have non-refrigerated eggs, I’m not sure if you could use them raw as I’m not sure if the dye would alter the shell (or penetrate it) so as to cause the eggs to go bad.  Of course, I can’t find any source that talks about this at all!

I do know that with hard-boiled eggs, the USDA recommendation is not to leave them out of the refrigerator more than two hours if you intend to eat them.  Apparently, boiling the eggs changes them somewhat so that various bacterias can form, particularly if the shells crack.  I’ll admit to carrying hard-boiled eggs with us for 6 or 7 hours on hikes and other excursions, but just remember that if you leave them out of the refrigerator longer than two hours as a centerpiece or otherwise, eating them is at your own risk.

With all of the dyes that worked for me, it took at least two hours in the dye solution to have color.  Therefore, being able to put the egg and dye in the refrigerator for several hours (or overnight) is helpful.  And since the best colors came when I made really concentrated dyes, small leakproof containers that are just big enough for one egg are very helpful.  (NOTE:  “leakproof” is critical, as all of these dyes will make a big mess if they spill!)

With all the dyes, it’s important to lift the eggs very carefully out of the dye and set them on rags or paper towels to dry.  Don’t rub them or rinse them off — you’ll remove the color!  Even after they are dry, handle them carefully as it’s easy to remove the dye.

Except for the drink-mix dye, it’s hard to get totally even color as you can see in the photo at the top of this page.  You can use crayons to draw designs or write on the eggs before dyeing them or, as I did, use a Sharpie permanent marker if you’re not planning to eat the egg.  And yes, you can see that I cracked one egg when I put the lid on the container — but it made an interesting decoration!

I’ve also read that you can make “tie-dyed” designs by wrapping rubber bands around the eggs before putting them in the dye, but my experience was that the dye seeped under the rubber bands during the long soak time and I couldn’t see any patterns.

Drink-mix dye

Using a highly-colored drink mix produced great results, with the red being outstanding.  I used Crystal Lite, but I’m guessing that a package of Kool-Aid (don’t add any sugar to it) would work just as well.  Yes, a purist would say this is cheating.

I mixed a package of powder that was supposed to make a half gallon (2 quarts) with just one cup of water and 2 tablespoons of white vinegar, and left the egg in for about two hours.  Be VERY careful handling the wet egg, as the dye rubs off easily.

Yellow onion skins

I used the skins from two yellow onions in one cup of boiling water and 2 tablespoons of white vinegar.  Leave the skins in as the egg soaks for about 2 hours.  Of the natural dyes, this produced the best color in the least time.  NOTE:  I first learned about using yellow onion skins to make dye for a Girl Scout basket weaving project — it’s a great dye for lots of purposes.

Blueberries

I used 1/4 cup of blueberries and mashed them up really well.  Then I added one cup of water and 2 tablespoons of white vinegar.  The egg had to soak for 4 hours to get the color in the photo.  It will come out of the dye looking purple and will dry to blue.

Beet juice

I used beet juice from a can of beets, undiluted, with 2 tablespoons of white vinegar.  It took 16 hours of soaking!

Coffee

I used one cup of leftover coffee with 2 tablespoons of white vinegar.  You could probably get a deeper color by adding some instant coffee to make a more concentrated mix.  I let this soak about 3 three hours.

If you have personal experience with other materials that work well to make your own dyes, please add them in the comments or post some photos on The Boat Galley’s Facebook page!

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Comments

  1. For whatever it’s worth, in Mexico (or at least in La Paz) food coloring can be found at a semillera (seed store). There is a semillera within a block of the Mercado Madero.

    Thanks for this excellent article, which a friend called to my attention. I’m about to try saffron, Jamaica, and dried blueberries, in addition to some of the dye sources you suggest. We’ll be offshore at Easter, but I’ll try to remember to send you the results.

    • Carolyn Shearlock says:

      Thanks for the info! I’ve been to that semillera, and never noticed the food coloring. Love to hear the results!

  2. We take the red onion skins, wrap around the egg, cover with cheese cloth then boil for 20 minutes. Comes out marbled with many colors-this is the special eggs that Easter Bunny leaves

  3. Mark Walker says:

    Here is an interesting twist. I needed a fast answer to an impromptu easter egg hunt. With out any food coloring in the house I turned to some crushed peppermint candies I had left over form Christmas. While boiling the eggs I poured the remaining crushed peppermints (about 8oz) in with the water. This turned the water bright red and much to my delight the eggs a beautiful pink. It took all of 15 minutes.

    P.S. Before I decided on the candies I thought about using red wine, which Im sure would work, but after all there are much better uses for red wine.

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