Three Ways to Dye Eggs March 29, 2012
When I was little , we liked to dye eggs every year in the spring: one dozen of the big white eggs we bought from the grocery store. This was the era before—okay, way before—backyard chicken keeping was popular. Not only that, but I lived in town, away from any local farmers who might have real eggs for us. Grocery store eggs it had to be.
Once I was older, I began buying brown eggs for eating, rather than white. Why? I’m not sure. I think I had the vague notion that they were farmier, but the truth is that the color of the shell has nothing to do with the taste or nutrition of the egg. The only thing that affects the egg’s nutrition is the hens’ diet. Hens with access to pasture lay healthier eggs.
So, people who keep their own hens tend to have much healthier (farmier?) eggs, but I didn’t know that way back when. I bought brown eggs to eat, but once a year in the spring I would still get one dozen white eggs specially for dyeing.
Now I know a lot more about eggs… and I also know I needn’t have bothered buying white for dyeing. What was I thinking? You can dye eggs with brown shells just as easily, and brown eggs produce prettier colors: they’re earthy and less garish than the stark colors on white eggs. So, if you’ve been making the same mistake I did, try it out this year. Dye eggs from your own hens, regardless of the natural shell color. You may find you prefer the colors!
To dye eggs, though, there are just a few things to remember. For example, you’ll want to be sure to follow our tips for cooking your eggs so they will be easy to peel. (You know you want them to peel easily for when you make deviled eggs!)
You’ll also want to make sure to thoroughly wash your eggs before dyeing them. Especially when you have your own hens, you’ll need to wash the eggs before dyeing… not because they’re dirtier than commerical eggs, but because they’re cleaner. Strange, huh? Eggs laid by your own hens still have the “bloom” on them, which is a natural barrier left by the hens to keep eggs fresh. Often, grocery store eggs must be washed (sometimes in chemical solutions containing chlorine or lye, yergh) because of the unsanitary conditions they’re laid in, so commercial eggs will already be missing the bloom. Your eggs will not have been treated this way, which is a good thing in most cases… but in the case of dyeing eggs, unfortunately the bloom can interfere with the process, so be sure to wash and dry your eggs first. If you have to use grocery store eggs, we’d also recommend washing them, mostly to remove any chemicals used to “clean” them, but also because some factory farm eggs are coated with mineral oil, double yuck.
Once your eggs are prepared, you’ll be ready to dye them.
There are three basic ways to dye your eggs.
The first way is using food color, often from various egg coloring kits specially packaged for coloring springtime eggs. I grew up using Paas, simple food coloring tablets that are ubiquitous in grocery stores this time of year in the US. You’ll find there are various brands that can give you glittery, speckledy, swirly or tie dyed appearances. One of the benefits of using a kit is that the dyes are measured out precisely, there are instructions as to how to achieve the best effect, and the kits often come with little wire egg dippers, stickers, decorating tools and other fun accessories for your kids. The truth is that you can use any brand of food coloring (whether it comes in a special egg kit or not), and blend colors together to mix your own shades at home.
Coloring eggs this way is fairly quick and easy—a great way to go if you want vivid colors quickly and easily. Take them out of the baths, and voila!
The second way way to dye your eggs is to use natural egg dyes rather than food coloring. To be frank, this is way more trouble. I’m a trouble maker, though, so it’s right up my alley. Using natural dyes often takes several pans for cooking up the colors, and then the eggs sometimes need to soak for additional time overnight to get any depth of shade. On the other hand, it makes your house smell all kinds of interesting. For this latest batch, I colored some eggs with blueberries, making my house smell like muffins. Then I did a set in curry (as I was out of straight turmeric), making the kitchen smell heavenly… and giving me a terrible craving for Indian food.
If you choose to “go natural” be sure to tell your kids or grandkids how long it will take, or you may end up suffering from the egg version of the “are we there yet?” chant! That said, the colors are amazing– often textured and with the feel of real eggs–perhaps exotic eggs, but real–rather than bright or garish as eggs colored with food coloring can be.
Here are some commonly used natural dyes:
- Red cabbage – pretty blue
- Yellow onion skins – warm gold
- Turmeric (or curry) – also gold (“old gold” as we say in West Virginia)
- Chamomile tea – pale yellow
- Red onion skins – jadeite green
- Beets – pink/magenta
- Grape juice – indigo
- Blueberry – bluish or purple
- Coffee – earthy brown
There are many other natural dyes, but these were always my favorites. Using natural dyes is more tricky. The eggs also tend to look drier when done, and the color scratches off pretty easily. It’s a look I love, though!
The third way—and by far the easiest— is simply to let your hens color your eggs. Easter Eggers lay eggs in pretty shades of blue and green that really need no improvement by the hand of man, and even brown egg layers produce many many shades, including pale parchment, warm brown, pink, chocolate, terra cotta and many colors in between.
Now, ENTER TO WIN!
My Pet Chicken would like to celebrate the spring with you by offering one of our beautiful ceramic egg racks as a prize for a lucky commenter located in the US. To enter the contest, comment on this blog post below—and be sure to share your favorite way to turn eggs into art! Contest ends April 12, 2012.