Making Easter Eggs With Natural [Spicy] Dyes

The tradition of decorating eggs in early springtime stretches across cultures and religions.  A symbol of fertility, and of the return of new life after the fallow winter season, eggs are decorated for the Persian Nowruz [New Year] celebration, for the Jewish Passover feast of deliverance, the Germanic pagan Ostara holiday, and, of course, Easter.

Decorated eggs as an art form dates back to before written history: archaeologists at the Diepkloof Rock Shelter in South Africa have found [emu or ostrich] eggshells, decorated with engraved hatched patterns, dating back sixty thousand years.

Today, most egg decorating is done with commercial food coloring, or with storebought egg-dyeing kits. But for those of you who love a new kitchen adventure, or who like doing things the “old fashioned” way, here are some traditional, natural ways to color your hard-boiled Easter [Passover, Nowruz, Ostara] eggs.

I have included recipes and proportions, where I could find them. Typically, you’ll combine and heat about 4 cups of veg or fruit, or 4 – 6 Tbsp spices, with 1 quart water [plus vinegar* and salt]. If using fruit, mash it before slipping the eggs in the homemade dye for best results.

Have fun experimenting with the contents of your pantry and the ingredients on your spice shelf. The following foods and spices are great for coloring already hard-boiled eggs:

  • Red: Beets produce a good shade of red.
    Simmer 3/4 lb beets + 1 qt water + 1 Tbsp salt + 1 Tbsp white distilled [cheap] vinegar.*
  • Pink: Fresh or frozen cherries.
  • Red-orange: Chile Powder
  • Orange: Paprika
  • Yellow: Turmeric turns eggs as yellow as your favorite curry dish.
    Heat 6 Tbsp Turmeric + 1 qt water + 1 Tbsp vinegar + 1 Tbsp salt.
  • Green: Spinach + Turmeric + *canned* blueberries
  • Blue: Surprisingly, cooked red cabbage tints eggs blue [surprisingly, not red-violet].
    Simmer 1 lb [1 small head] cabbage, shredded + 1 qt water + 1 Tbsp vinegar.
  • Golden Brown: Dill Seeds

Onion skins, wrapped around uncooked eggs, and then covered snugly in muslin or cheesecloth, then boiled for 10 minutes, makes beautiful “antique” looking Easter eggs. This is a great way to secure tiny flowers [violets, lilacs, Queen Anne’s Lace] or ferns [dill, asparagus leaves] or even grains of rice or millet to the egg while it cooks and is dyed. When the muslin, onion skin, and decorative plant material are removed, it makes a lovely un-dyed “resist” design.

Other “natural” design methods include dripping a little olive oil over the egg before dyeing, or in between rounds of dye, for a variegated “marbled” effect. The dye resists the oiled surfaces. Draw an “invisible” picture with beeswax, or wrap with kitchen twine before [or between rounds of] dyeing for a similar resist effect.

Food safety tip: Hard-boiled eggs will keep for up to one week in the refrigerator. Do not let hard boiled eggs go un-refrigerated for more than two hours.

*In each of these recipes, where it says vinegar, we encourage you to use inexpensive distilled vinegar. Save the good balsamic vinegars for recipes you’re actually going to eat.

Photo credit: Natural Easter egg dying, by Luz on Flickr

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