Back in the days before there was a New Jersey Turnpike lined with chemical factories, before the people at Paas started churning out those little petroleum-based food coloring pellets, people found natural ways to dye eggs at Easter time. Our family wanted to use natural dyes this year, and I found lots of different options. After looking at ideas from several different sources, I settled on some of the coloring instructions I found in a Better Homes and Gardens article. We decided to go with four different food-based dyes from the BHG list of 16 possibilities.
Pink: Chop one medium beet and boil it in a pan with 4 cups of water. Strain the beet chunks and bring the water to room temperature, then add 2 tablespoons of vinegar.
Red: Boil a tablespoon of paprika in a cup of water. Bring the water to room temperature and add 2 teaspoons of vinegar.
Blue: Chop ¼ head of red cabbage and boil it in 4 cups of water. Strain the cabbage and bring the water to room temperature, then add 2 tablespoons of vinegar.
Yellow: Take the skins off 4 onions and simmer them in 2 cups of water for 20 minutes. Strain the onion skins and bring the water to room temperature, then add 2 teaspoons of vinegar.
Before starting, we noticed that the beets and the red cabbage were about the same color, so we were curious if they would really yield different colored eggs. Also, after boiling the cabbage, the water looked purple instead of blue. We were curious again, wondering how this would give us blue eggs. I was most skeptical about the onion skins, wondering how exactly they were going to make our eggs yellow.
The directions told us that the colors would be most vibrant if we soaked the eggs in their dyes overnight. We did leave most of them overnight, but we also pulled a few of them after just 10 minutes of steeping.
Surprisingly, the onion skins had the strongest and most immediate impact. This dye yielded a yellow-orange color that looks strikingly similar to the brown eggs that we usually buy. The blue didn’t seem to be working at all in the early stages, but as the picture at the top shows, the blue eggs did come out beautifully in the morning. The paprika eggs came out a bit speckled, and it seemed like actual grains of paprika were sticking to the eggs in a splotchy pattern. I think we’ll skip the paprika next time. My children had a great time with this little science experiment, and we look forward to trying new combinations next year.