Food-based art supplies: natural Easter egg dyes

natural_Easter_eggsWe’ve had a number of folks ask recently about making natural dyes for coloring Easter eggs. Whether you’re crafty or culinary, or you just want to try something a little different this year, there are lots of ingredients in your cupboard and your crisper drawer that produce richly-colored natural dyes.

We talked about natural egg dyeing several years ago, in this article, and we also go into some detail about the basic egg-dye recipe (with helpful tips for making unique and funky designs) in a more recent post.

What follows here, is a little background on how natural dyes work, and some more ingredient suggestions that will help create the perfect shade for your eggy work of art.

How does it work?

Man-made or natural, dyes are made of pigments, which color the fabric or egg or other thing which is being dyed.


Dried and powdered herbs and spices will dissolve in the heated vinegar solution and yield their natural color.

On the other hand, fresh ingredients like berries, leafy greens, sliced beets, onions and so on will need to be boiled in order to let the pigments escape the plant material.

Vinegar, the other key ingredient of the natural food-based dye, is a natural preservative (think: pickles!), and acts upon the fresh ingredient while it boils to preserve the boldness of the pigment.  Fresh lemon and lemon juice has the same preservative effect.

Downtown-Des-Moines-Winter-Market-FruitFresh or canned? Hot dip or cold?

Fresh fruits and vegetables in your dye solution will produce a deeper or more intense color. Canned fruits and veg will yield a paler result.

The darkest, deepest colors will come from boiling the eggs in the dye. This also yields the most uniform color, as every part of the egg surface gets rolled around evenly in the dye. Place eggs in a single layer in a saucepan and add vinegar-water-dyeing agent solution until the level is 1″ – 2″ higher than the eggs. Bring to a rolling boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 – 30 min. Rinse with lukewarm water.

Softer, more translucent colors come from dipping eggs in dye solution that has been boiled, strained, and cooled at least slightly. Dip the eggs for up to 30 minutes or more. The longer the “dip,” the deeper the color.

Hot, cool, coolest. You can also make no-boil dyes, and color eggs by covering the (already-hard-boiled) eggs with water, add dyeing materials, about a teaspoon of vinegar, and chill the eggs, in the dyeing solution, in the refrigerator until the desired color is achieved.

Easter_Egg_Dye_SpicesWhich ingredients make what color?

Orange – Paprika + vinegar
onion skins, boiled in vinegar water

Yellow or Gold – Turmeric + vinegar
Orange + Lemon peels
Carrot tops and greens
Yellow mustard, ground
Saffron (this is a very expensive way to dye eggs – might want to choose a less expensive ingredient)
Curry powder
Daffodil blossoms

Green – blend your blue + yellow dyes, or…

Yellow-green – 1 Cup spinach cooked with vinegar water

Blue – Blueberries + lemon
Red cabbage, boiled in vinegar water, cabbage leaves left to steep in the water while dye cools

Purple – Concord grape juice concentrate + vinegar

Red – Pomegranate juice + red onion skins + vinegar
Hibiscus flowers dried (or Hibiscus Powder)
Red wine (no vinegar needed)
or – allow the egg to soak in your deep orange onion dye for a very long time

Pink – Raspberries + lemon
sliced beets, cranberries, and/or red currants cooked in vinegar water

Brown – coffee granules + vinegar

Golden brown – Dill seeds

What should you do with all those dyed, hard-boiled eggs when you’re done admiring them? Here’s a post with lots of recipes that call for hard-boiled eggs.

Easter egg photo (at top) credit: Natural Easter egg dying, by Luz on Flickr