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Want to know more about natural food dyes?
Check out our post on Homemade Food Coloring. It's got free printables and color charts to help you make the most of your natural dyes!
Yup – it's officially spring. My mother found the first buttercups of the year, my daughter is picking cherry blossoms to take to school, and the weather vacillates between heavy rain and bright sunshine. Sure signs of spring, indeed.
This also means Easter is just around the corner. And although Easter eggs have nothing to do with the true celebration of Easter, we enjoy the tradition of coloring eggs on Easter weekend.
Of course, being the slightly crunchy, granola, natural-minded parents that we are, we want to minimize our children's exposure to overly-processed, chemical-laden dyes, so we make our own using spices and vegetables we readily have on hand. (Not to mention the store-bought dyes are incredibly expensive! Using homemade dyes is a much more frugal option.)
It's taken us a few years to figure out the dyes we like the best, as it's been hit and miss (some dyes were waaaaaaay too pale, some wiped off, and some just insisted on being… sludgy brown…), but here are the versions we like best.
(And while you're getting all your supplies ready, grab a cup of tea and take a moment to read this highly enjoyable article from Edible Vancouver magazine (PDF) about the adventures of using natural dyes – it begins on page 25 of this PDF download.)
Natural Easter Egg Dyes
There are two types of natural ingredients to make dyes:
- those that are sufficient as dyes on their own (e.g. espresso, beet juice, or wine)
- those that need to steep in water in order to create the dye (e.g. spices, onion skins, and cabbage leaves). I've marked the ingredients that need to be steeped first with an asterisk (*).
How to Make Steeped Dyes
To make the steeped dyes, combine the water and colorant and bring to a boil. Boil gently for approximately 15 minutes, then cool the liquid to room temperature.
As for how much of each ingredient to use, count on 4 tablespoons of spice or 4 cups of coarsely chopped vegetables per quart of water.
- if you want to use chili powder as your colorant and you want to make 2 cups of dye, you would use 2 cups of water and 2 tablespoons of chili powder;
- if you want to use beets as your colorant and you want to make 1 quart of dye, you would use boil 4 cups of water with 4 cups of cubed beets.
And remember to compost all your ingredients when you're done. 🙂
|COLOR||INGREDIENTS (listed in order of intensity of hue, best option bolded)|
Red Onion Skins*
Hibiscus Tea, heavily steeped
|Blue||Butterfly Pea Flowers,* heavily steeped|
Mashed Blueberries – enough to completely cover the eggs in juice
Red Cabbage Leaves*
Purple Grape Juice
|Green||Blueberry Juice + Ground Turmeric|
Green Tea, very heavily steeped
|Brown||Very Strong Coffee (Espresso shots work best)|
Instant Coffee, made very dark
Black Tea, heavily steeped
Fresh Pressed Carrot Juice
Yellow Onion Skins*
|Pink||Fresh Pressed Beet Juice|
Liquid from a jar of pickled beets
Pure Cranberry Juice (NOT cranberry cocktail)
|Red||Lots of Red Onions Skins*|
Canned Cherries with Juice
Pure Pomegranate Juice
Tips for Getting the Best Colors
- Use a scant 1 tablespoon of white vinegar per 2 cups of liquid to help the color adhere to the eggshell.
- Wipe eggshells completely dry before decorating.
- Use rubber bands and crayons to decorate the eggs before dipping to create fun effects.
- Let the eggs steep in the dye for at least 10 minutes to deepen the color. Keep in mind that even the most “intense” dyes that come from natural sources will still produce a mostly-pastel shade on your egg.
How to Use Natural Dyes for Food and Play Dough
These dyes can be used for food and homemade play dough, too, and you're only limited by flavors.
For example, beet juice works beautifully to color buttercream a gorgeous pink and turmeric creates a perfect yellow mustard while also enhancing the flavor of the mustard. However, you don't necessarily want chili powder flavored buttercream or oniony play dough.
Therefore, choose colorants whose flavors that can easily “hide” behind the “real” flavor of your food. (Since you're using them in very small concentrations, generally the flavor isn't hugely present, anyway.) Use a few drops of fresh parsley juice for a lovely green in your buttercream or matcha powder in the white cupcake base, then use a flavor that fits the occasion.
For example, with our Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Pretty Pink Frosting, we've used both raspberry and rhubarb juice as a flavor and the beet juice colorant happily fades into the background. For play dough, it just becomes a matter of preference. If you're using it for fresh homemade pasta, use complimentary flavors, such as spinach juice, beet juice, tomato sauce, or chili powder (sparingly if you don't like heat!).
For using the colors in baking, such as in a rainbow cake, one of the moms over at Itsy Bitsy Foodies has experimented with various options brilliantly (and photographed her results), so definitely check out their naturally colored Rainbow Cake.
If you'd like a more meaningful way to celebrate Holy Week and Easter, make Resurrection Eggs, which use 12 symbols to help children better understand all the events leading up to Christ's death and the power of his resurrection. It's a Lenten version of the Jesse Tree and a wonderful, intentional tool as we teach our children.