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Easter Traditions: Natural and food coloring egg dyeing tips

Written By | Apr 1, 2015

WASHINGTON, April 1, 2015 – Easter, or Paschal, eggs, are a popular tradition during the Easter season. The egg is a symbol of spring’s fertility and rebirth heralded by warmer weather, budding plants and the birth of new animals — bunnies, squirrels, birds — that we readily see in our suburban backyards.

Red eggs symbolize the blood of Christ

Red eggs symbolize the blood of Christ

Dyeing eggshells predates Christianity, and intricately engraved and dyed ostrich eggs dating back over 60,000 years have been found.  Eggs richly decorated with gold and silver were often placed in the graves of the ancient Egyptians.

For Christians the dyeing of Easter eggs combines religion with paganism.  Going back to the early days of Mesopotamia, Christians would dye eggs red as a token of the blood of Christ shed for them at his crucifixion. The cracking of the egg represents Christ’s release from the tomb, and death, in his resurrection.

Christianity also tells the story of Mary Magdalene’s bringing boiled eggs to the tomb of Jesus to share with the women gathered there. As she approached the tomb, the eggs turned as red as the blood of Christ.

Dyed Easter Eggs - Wallpaper courtesy of and

Dyed Easter Eggs – Wallpaper courtesy of and

For children, the joy of dyeing eggs and then hunting for them with their bright, candy-filled baskets, is a celebration of springtime play and family tradition.

There are many natural items you can use to color eggs, including boiling onion peels to dye them a golden brown or the shells of the oak or walnut to create a dark brown or black dye.

Tree bark from the apple tree or the marigold create a yellow dye, and pink can be obtained by soaking the eggs in tepid water in which fresh beets have been boiled.


Other natural dyes are red cabbage leaves, blueberries, blackberries or raspberries and spices like tumeric, curry, chili, paprika, coffees and teas (some of the flavored teas can create deep colors).

Let the boiled egg sit in the water until it reaches the color you desire as it simmers. You don’t want to overcook the egg, so while you bring the water to a boil to create the color you want, simmer the egg in the vinegar and color agent so that you don’t overcook them.

Once the egg is cooked, you can let it sit in the cooling water, even in the refrigerator overnight, to create darker and richer colors.  If you overcook the egg in the dyeing process it may become rubbery and inedible, so you need to determine how much you want to “boil” the egg in the dye.

Bring the natural produce, water and vinegar to a boil and let it steep until the water is the desired color. Dip a piece of paper towel to test it.

Eggs dying with onion skins

Egg-dyeing with onion skin. Add the egg for five minutes at a low roiling boil and then let cool, even overnight, in the water to reach the color you desire – but remember a lot of

It will take a lot of natural product to create a dark enough hue to dye the egg and the freshness of the product, particularly spices. Collect peels that have sloughed off into the onion bin at the grocery store or ask the grocer to save them for you.  During the fall season you can start collected the dark walnut seeds that drop in anticipation of spring egg dyeing.

Egg dyers use wax crayons, stickers and rubber bands to create designs on the egg prior to dying. If you want a shiny egg, put a few drops of olive or food grade oil on a paper towel and rub into the colored egg.
The longer the egg sits in the water, the darker the colors.

Start with lighter colors and layer with darker colors to create a mottled effect.

Once fully dried, a non-oiled egg can be decorated with sparkles, stickers or appliques. Or you can carefully scratch a design in the egg with a sharp pick-like tool.

Brown eggs can create a different range of colors that are often darker and bolder. To make a dye for your eggs mix a teaspoon of clear, white vinegar, your colorant and/or 20 or more drops of food coloring to every cup of hot water and bring to a boil.  Add eggs until soft boiled and let finish dyeing and cooking as the water cools.

You can add layers of color to a boiled and dyed egg by re-submerging the egg in a bowl or jar deep enough to cover the egg and wide enough to remove it. Good results have also been achieved by wrapping a dried, lightly colored egg in s small piece of plastic wrap that drops of food coloring have been drizzled on.

A coat hanger, or other sturdy wire, bent into a ladle shape or tongs will make handling the eggs easier. If you have a whisk that you can put the egg inside, it can be a creative way to “dip” your eggs.

Before you begin, natural egg dyes can be messy.  Using McCormick food color is easier; however, the colors from natural dyes can be beautiful. Either is not the quick process that buying a commercial dye will be, and it can be messy.

So plenty of paper towels, newspapers and old shirts are a must. One step to not forget is to use a dishwashing liquid mixture to lightly wash the eggs to remove the protein from the surface so your egg dye will adhere.

Dyed Brown Eggs - Image Courtesy South Mountain Creamery

Dyed Brown Eggs – Image Courtesy South Mountain Creamery

South Mountain Creamery Egg Dyeing Tips

  • Before you begin dyeing eggs, protect your work area with paper towels or newspaper.
  • Save your eggs from year to year or turn them into ornaments to hang from branches! Instead of hard-boiling the eggs, blow out the yolks and egg whites before dyeing them.
  • To empty a raw egg, begin by using the tip of a sharp utility knife to pierce both ends of the egg; turn the knife in one of the holes to widen it slightly. Then, poke a straightened paper clip through the larger hole to pierce and “stir” the yolk. Hold the egg over a bowl with the larger hole down, and blow the contents out with a rubber ear syringe.
  • Broken shells? Don’t throw them away! Crunch the dyed shells into little pieces to make a beautiful mosaic.
  • Most naturally dyed eggs have a matte finish. For shinier eggs, rub them with coconut or olive oil and polish with a paper towel.

Create different patterns in your egg dyeing:

Two-tone: Dip top half of egg in one color and the bottom half in another.

Dots and Shapes: Before dyeing, place stickers on the eggs. Once dry, remove stickers. Try using shapes or animals for different designs.

Stripes: Place rubber bands on the eggs before dyeing to create the design of choice. Once dry, remove rubber bands.

Personalized: Draw zigzags or pictures on the egg with a white or light colored crayon before dyeing.

Glitter: Use Glitter Glue to add sparkling designs on eggs. Allow glue to dry on eggs before moving.

Marbled: Mix 1/4 cup boiling water, 1 teaspoon vinegar, 1/8 teaspoon oil and 4 to 8 drops food color in shallow bowl. Gently roll egg in mixture until desired shade. Transfer egg to second color mixture, and repeat the process. After egg dries, wipe away excess oil with paper towel.

Color Wash: Place several eggs in a colander in the kitchen sink. Splash eggs with vinegar. Drop desired food color onto eggs. Gently shake the colander for a few seconds to help the color spread. After 30 seconds, lightly rinse eggs with water. Drain completely. Allow eggs to dry.


For more information on using food dyes and tips for great egg designs visit



Jacquie Kubin

Jacquie Kubin is an award-winning writer and wanderer. She turns her thoughts to an eclectic mix of stories - from politics to sports. Restless by nature and anxious to experience new things, both in the real world and online, Jacquie mostly shares travel and culinary highlights, introduces readers to the chefs and creative people she meets and shares the tips, life and travel information people want to read.