Eggs have a long tradition of representing new life and welcoming spring. After a long winter, it’s easy to feel like celebrating at the sight of trees blossoming and the warmer temperatures.
The tradition of decorating and dyeing eggs is rooted in these early spring rituals and symbols, and people gave colored eggs as gifts to wish others a new beginning. Many of us grew up dyeing a ridiculous number of eggs using packaged colorings, like these. Vibrant colors are fun, but I started seeing photos of more muted colored eggs, which means different dyes; that piqued my curiosity. It makes sense that before there was Paas, there were other ways to color and decorate eggs – I had just never given it much thought. Let’s investigate!
Take a little jaunt on the internet, and you’ll find a wide array of methods for fancying up your ovoids. After perusing tutorials, I decided to try my hand at egg dying using yellow onion skins, beets, red cabbage, and turmeric. I never thought about it, but using brown and white eggs gives you twice as many hues. Luckily, I was able to find a mixed dozen at my local grocery store for experimentation.
I used a method from a now-defunct website, but Design*Sponge has instructions that are along the same lines. The process is roughly making a dye bath of water and your coloring agent, boiling and simmering the dye, straining into jars and adding a little vinegar. Drop in your hardboiled eggs (gently!), and rest in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours.
You may be wondering why dyeing eggs always involves vinegar. The answer has to do with pH, keeping the color molecules together when immersed in water and acting as an aid for permeability into the egg shell. More on this in Wired’s article The Science Behind a Perfectly Dyed Easter Egg. Hate the smell of vinegar? Go ahead and try using another acid instead.
Here are my results, after an overnight soak in the dyebaths. I rather like the mottled texture that resulted from a longer soak.
Why stop there? What if I dyed the edible portion of the egg itself?
Many moons ago, I made some lovely Chinese marbled tea eggs. I’ve also made ramen with marinated soft boiled eggs, which produced a soft tan color (and were absolutely delicious!). I channeled this impulse into pickled eggs dyed with beets. And, of course you could try any number of other coloring agents for adding hues to the shell or interior. There are quite a few ideas on Two Men and a Little Farm’s post.
With all of these beautiful dyes to try, it’s easy to get egg-cited and make more hard boiled eggs than you know what to do with. Generally speaking, I prefer eggs of the runny yolk variety, so it often presents a challenge to manage an onslaught of hard boiled ones. Of course there are a myriad of ways you can tinker with deviled eggs, egg salads and the like, but here are some of my favorite ways to use them.
- The Kitchn’s boiled egg, seared asparagus and pickled red onion sandwich, featured on our Season’s Eatings: Asparagus blog post (and in the photo above with the beet pickled eggs). I look forward to this every spring, and it has become an annual tradition.
- Chef Matthew McClure’s, (The Hive, Bentonville, AR) pickled egg salad on toast via Tasting Table. Yes, I know there’s already a pickled egg recipe above. This one is useful in the event that you’ve dyed only the outside shell, and want to pickle them afterward, as well as an excuse to mash up any eggs that refused to come out of their shells in an elegant manner.
- Torta di Pasqua, a spinach and ricotta-filled savory crust, with hard boiled eggs tucked inside. I’ve been using a recipe that was written down during the time my family lived in Italy, and haven’t seen a recipe quite like it on the internet but it’s similar to this one.
Whether you’re celebrating the Vernal Equinox, Passover, Easter, Persian New Year, Higan, Earth Day, Daylight Savings Time, or just the fact that you don’t need to wear mittens, using these natural dyes to color your eggs is a fun way to experiment and welcome spring. Try it yourself, it’s easy!