Color Your Easter Eggs with Beets & Berries

Natural dyes made from foods you love

Martha Stewart, ever the model of elegant efficiency, is ahead of the rest of us when it comes to Easter eggs; all she has to do is head out to her Palais de Poulet and collect the perfectly pastel blue-green eggs her fancy Araucana chickens lay.

For those of us who don’t own exotic hens, there’s always the classic PAAS egg dying kit, on which Americans have relied to color our Easter eggs for more than a century. A New Jersey drugstore owner named William Townley first marketed the dye tablets in five sunny shades back in 1880; he derived the name “PAAS” from “Passen,” the name his Pennsylvania Dutch neighbors had for Easter.

But the history of egg-dying pre-dates William Townley’s tablets by a few thousand years or so, according to the PAAS website, which claims that Persians exchanged red-dyed eggs to celebrate the arrival of spring as far back as 3000 B.C. The first Christians to celebrate Easter with colored eggs were the Macedonians, back in the thirteenth century. From there, the tradition spread to Europe.

So how did these pre-PAAS peoples color their eggs? The same way they colored their textiles; with plant materials, i.e. fruits, vegetables and spices. You can create a wide range of soft, subtle colors using ingredients you probably already have in your pantry or fridge.

Here are just a few of the colors you can make with various foods:

Blue/Lavender: blueberries, red cabbage

Pale green: spinach leaves

Pale red/pink: beets, cranberries, raspberries

Yellow: turmeric, yellow onion skins

The colors will vary depending on how much of each ingredient you use, how long you steep it, and whether you use brown eggs or white.

To dye the eggs, place them in a pan and add your dye ingredient of choice, a quart of water, and 2 tablespoons white vinegar (the vinegar is what “fixes” the color).

If you’re using berries, beets, cabbage, or spinach, you’ll need anywhere from 2 to 4 cups depending on how many eggs you’re dying and how deep you want the color to be. To dye eggs yellow, you can either use a tablespoon or two of turmeric, or a ton of onion skins (4 to 6 cups).

Bring the water to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes to several hours, till you achieve the shade you want. You can also steep the eggs in the dye bath overnight in the fridge, to deepen the color.

Your naturally dyed Easter eggs will be prettier than anything you can make with primary-colored tablets and store-bought food-colorings. But how will those tastefully hued eggs taste? Can you use them to make egg salad after the Easter egg hunt is over?

Well, that depends on two things. If you have to boil the eggs for hours on end to get the color you want, their texture will be a bit tough. And if you plan to display the eggs, say, or hide them under the azaleas, you won’t want to eat them once they’ve sat around unrefrigerated for more than two hours.


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