The year the Easter Bunny brought my kids organic, all-natural, yogurt-covered raisins didn’t go over very well–but at least my daughters are gung-ho for dying Easter eggs with homemade, plant-based dyes. We rummage and smoosh and boil, and they are amazed and delighted by the colors we create with a bunch of oddball ingredients from the kitchen. They love the messy magic, and my simmering neurosis about synthetic food dyes is quelled.
Certified food dyes approved by the FDA include colors synthesized from petroleum derivatives and even coal tar. While some food dyes based on natural ingredients come from things that, although natural, you still may not care to ingest: Have you heard about carminic acid? It is a commonly used red food coloring which comes from the dried, crushed bodies of pregnant female scale insects called cochineal. I have an adventurous palate, but that’s just not for me.
By using plant-based dyes for coloring Easter eggs, not only do you know exactly what you’re getting (no bugs, thanks) but the colors are far lovelier than their synthetic counterparts. They are muted yet vibrant, and knowing their source is gratifying on a deeper aesthetic level. Children seem to find that mashing food is also much more fun that simply dropping a tablet in a cup. As well, it is a great lesson in exploration—kids get to experiment with which plant materials work in which way, and can get creative with items in the refrigerator or pantry.
Some of these materials work best when they are boiled with the eggs (they will be noted below), and some work well made ahead and used by dipping or soaking the eggs. If you are using juice, just use it straight. Bulky materials will be boiled with the eggs or boiled and allowed to cool for dipping. The longer you let the eggs soak, the more intense the color will be (for the boiled versions, you can remove them from the heat and allow to cool in the dye bath).
You can use your favorite egg-dying tricks here as well: Like crayons for a batik effect or rubber bands for a tie-dye effect. If you like a glossy egg, you can rub the dyed eggs with vegetable oil when they are dry.
Red onion skins, use a lot (boil with eggs)
Yellow onion skins (boil with eggs)
Lemon or orange peel (boil with eggs)
Carrot tops (boil with eggs)
Celery seed (boil with eggs)
Ground cumin (boil with eggs)
Ground turmeric (boil with eggs)
Dill seeds (boil with eggs)
Black walnut shells (boil with eggs)
Bright green apple peels (boil with eggs)
Spinach leaves (boil with eggs)
Canned blueberries and their juice
Red cabbage leaves (boil with eggs)
Purple grape juice
Red onion skins, less amount than you need to make red (boil with eggs)
Diluted purple grape juice
Violet blossoms plus squeeze of lemon (boil with eggs)
Beets, fresh or canned
Cranberries or cranberry juice
Red grape juice