April 13, 2011

Soup to Nuts:
Easter eggs to DYE for

Our intrepid columnist dons her Easter Bunny suit and hops into the kitchen to experiment with alternatives to artificial colors for holiday eggs. It proves to be eggs-acting science indeed.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Easter is approaching, and that means lots of brightly colored eggs and candy will be filling baskets and little mouths.

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Natural egg dyes can be derived from fruits and vegetables and produce some colors even a bunny could love.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Natural dyes from red cabbage, at left, orange, lemon, beet, red onion skin and carrots – among many other fruits and vegetables and even tea and spices – were used to color the eggs in this Easter basket.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

This year, those sunny yellows, cool blues and deep pinks of spring may be giving some families pause because of the recent debate over the safety of food dyes.

Recently, an advisory panel of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration concluded that there's not enough scientific evidence yet that foods containing artificial dyes are harming the general population, but the dyes might trigger hyperactivity in a small percentage of children with behavioral problems. The panel said more research is needed.

Artificial dyes can seep through cracks in Easter eggs, and some colors may leach through the porous shells. Should you be worried?

Peter Knight, a doctor of naturopathy at True North, a health-care center in Falmouth, said if you know your child is not sensitive to food dyes, "then it's probably not an issue."

"Not all children are sensitive to food dyes," he said. "But if you know your child has an issue with the dyes, then when you open up the egg if you notice any discoloration, that's coming from the dye, so I would recommend for them not to consume that egg."

Here's another alternative: Try using natural dyes.

There's lots of information on the Internet about using fruit, vegetables, tea and spices to color Easter eggs. Do these techniques really work? How do the colors compare? I recently tapped into my inner 6-year-old and spent a great deal of time in my kitchen experimenting so you don't have to.

I was pleasantly surprised by some of the results and disappointed in others. I made some gorgeous blue eggs with red cabbage and blueberries, yet the color rubbed off some of the pink eggs I tried to make. Some eggs that I expected to be green or yellow came out brown or tan.

Here's how I did it. And, accompanying this column below you'll find my suggestions and recommendations for natural dyes if you want to try it yourself:

This may seem obvious, but first you have to boil some eggs. Place the eggs in a single layer in a pan. Bring them to a boil, then remove them from the heat and let them sit, covered, for 12 to 15 minutes, depending on how large they are. Put the eggs in the fridge until you're ready to dye them.

Some instructions suggest boiling the eggs with the dyes to get deeper colors, but when I tried that, the egg cracked all over.

Next, prepare your natural dye materials.

Unless you're using canned fruit or straight juices such as grape or cranberry juice, most of your dye materials will have to be boiled to release their color. There are all kinds of formulas out there, but for most of my dyes, I filled a pan with a little more than 2 cups of water and then added a couple of tablespoons of vinegar, which acts as a fixer for the color.

Some people add the vinegar after the boiling, but apparently boiling the vinegar with the dye material can result in much deeper colors, so that's the method I used.

I boiled my dye materials – everything from onion skins to carrot tops – for about 15 minutes to be sure I got good color. Then I strained the colored water (you can use cheesecloth or a fine strainer) and poured the liquid into a pint-sized canning jar.

I bought a couple dozen canning jars to dye the eggs in, because I wanted to leave them in the refrigerator overnight. (Supposedly, this produces deeper colors.) I needed two dozen jars because I was experimenting. Unless you're having a party or want to do some experimenting yourself, a dozen jars will be plenty.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Eggs soak in the juice of spinach and red cabbage, which yields eggs that are pale green and deep blue, respectively.

Meredith Goad/Staff Writer

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Boiled eggs stew in natural juices in the fridge as they're transformed from basic white to deep, rich Easter hues.

Meredith Goad/Staff Writer

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Eggs dyed in yellow onion skins.

Meredith Goad/Staff Writer

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Eggs dyed in turmeric.

Meredith Goad/Staff Writer

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Variety pack: A dozen eggs in colors straight out of nature feature shells tinted with, back row, left to right, turmeric, blueberries, beets, green tea, oranges and yellow onion skins; front row, red cabbage, spinach, canned tart cherries in syrup, carrot tops, pomegranate juice and red cabbage.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer


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