Alternatives to Artificial Egg Dyes
Every holiday, the kitchen is where the magic happens. Whether you’re prepping a turkey the night before Thanksgiving or making cookies to leave out for Santa Claus, the kitchen tends to be the center of our most memorable holiday experiences. Easter is no exception and, although many families celebrate with a large Easter dinner, kids have their eyes on another, more colorful prize from the kitchen: Easter eggs.
If you grew up decorating Easter eggs, you probably used dye kits. They’re simple to use – drop a tablet of dye in the water, add a bit of vinegar, then let your eggs soak for a few minutes. The results varied, leaving you with a range of eggs that could be surprisingly vibrant or disappointingly dull. Kits have gotten more adventurous in recent years, letting customers try their hands at tie-dye, metallic, or marbled eggs with mixed results. Some families also use food dye to make their own egg dyes, mixing primary colors to achieve exactly the colors they want.
However, in recent years artificial dyes have come under attack. Most synthetic dyes are derived from petroleum, leaving many people who are trying to be more environmentally friendly looking for other options. Additionally, studies have shown artificial food coloring can cause hyperactivity in children, while other scientists claim that specific dyes may even cause cancer. While the FDA has banned a few dyes, there are many that are still allowed in the United States despite being banned in most of Europe and despite multiple calls by groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest to ban synthetic food dyes.
Due to the possible dangers of artificial food dyes, many people have been working to reduce how much they and their children ingest. While dying Easter eggs is a once-a-year event and many people don’t even eat the products, for those who wish to avoid synthetic dyes altogether it is a struggle to find dye kits that don’t use them. While natural egg dying kits exist, they are pricier than their synthetic counterparts, and many users claim the colors come out lackluster. Thankfully, plenty of natural egg dyes exist right in your local grocer’s produce section.
Have you ever chopped up a carrot only to find your fingers tinged orange or eaten blueberries and had blue nails for several days after? This is due to natural compounds such as beta-carotene and anthocyanin, compounds that can also be of assistance when it comes to dying eggs. Any fruit or vegetable that has a bright, vivid color can likely be of help when dying Easter eggs (or any other food product). Red onion skins can produce a vivid red, beet or cranberry juice can produce pink, and red (yes, red) cabbage can create blue. Some spices, such as chili powder, turmeric, and paprika can also create dyes when combined with water and vinegar.
The two keys when it comes to creating your own dye are concentration and duration. For vivid or darker colors, you should aim to make the dye as concentrated as possible. This means boiling the vegetable of your choice in water for an extended period of time, then removing the vegetables and boiling the water down until the color is more concentrated. Add some vinegar, which helps bind the color to the egg, and then let the egg soak in the mixture. If you plan on eating the eggs after dying them, be sure to let the dye cool to room temperature before putting the eggs in, then put the eggs and dye in the refrigerator.
You can let your eggs soak for as little as an hour or two, or as long as overnight to achieve the colors you want. When we used these methods at my house, I wanted some bold, bright colors, so I let them all soak anywhere from 12 to 24 hours. This backfired on two colors – the eggs in the red and purple dyes shot straight past their target colors and into brown. I would recommend trying to dye your eggs at a time when you are available to check on them every hour or two, so you can take them out when you achieve the color you want.
Just because you’re not using a tie-dye kit doesn’t mean you can’t make some impressive designs with your natural dyes. Collect flowers and leaves with pretty shapes, then use pantyhose to secure them to the egg as they soak. The dye penetrates the hose but not the leaves, leaving pretty white impressions in the shapes of the leaves on the egg’s shell. Another option is to wrap tape or rubber bands around the egg before soaking it in the dye, leaving you with white lines. You can either leave them white or dip the egg in a different dye color for a striped effect.
For marbled eggs, leave bits of the onion skin or cabbage in the dye-water with the egg. This will prevent the dye from penetrating some parts of the eggshell as thoroughly, resulting in a nicely marbled appearance. You can also use a white crayon to draw designs on the egg; the wax prevents the dye from taking where you’ve drawn, so you can create custom designs. I also found out through my own trials that using carbonated grape juice creates a stippled effect, with lots of little white dots in the purple. With a little creativity, you can produce eggs to rival the fanciest kit-dyed eggs, all with some boiled vegetables.
Now that you’ve dyed your eggs while avoiding synthetic dyes, you’re probably wondering if they are safe to eat. While the dye is definitely safe to consume, the eggs themselves may be a problem. Eggs that have been at room temperature for more than two hours should not be eaten – and to make things more difficult, that time limit is shortened to half an hour if you have the eggs outdoors and the temperature exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit. However, if you used the eggs in an outdoor hunt, you may not want to eat those anyway, due to potential pesticide, fertilizer, or animal dropping contamination.
The basic food safety rules in regard to hard-boiled eggs are to keep them refrigerated and don’t eat them more than a week after they were cooked. If your Easter eggs fall within those guidelines, beyond that you’ll just need to use common sense on how they were handled and used to decide if they are safe for your family to eat.