Apr 21 2011

Naturally Dyed Eggs



Natural Easter Egg Dyes

In the Gilmore house there is no surer sign of Easter than onion skin boiled eggs.  I like them much more than the traditional store kit dyed kind because they have a subtle onion scent that lingers even after you peel them.  In fact sometimes I’ll even make them off season.

We do 3 dozen at a time and the recipe is very simple-

  • A Big Pot
  • 3 pounds of regular cooking onions, my market calls them yellow, but they’re actually brown.  I personally use 6.
  • 3 dozen eggs, White (I mean otherwise what’s the point?)
  • Water to cover (Distilled Vinegar Optional)

Directions:  Collect the onion skins, just the dry papery part, the more the better.  No need to be fussy.

Toss them in the bottom of your big pot, gently place your eggs, water to cover and you may need to replace periodically.

Simmering boil for as long as you want, at least 30 minutes.  The longer the darker the color.  Adding Red Onion skins also darkens the color.

If you have cardboard cartons you can use them for draining racks.  The color will tend to rub off pressure points or if you rub them before they have cooled and the color has set.  Overnight is best.

Naturally dyed eggs are naturally matte finished, if you want them slightly glossy you can rub them with shortening or merely with your hands.

You may find that several eggs are cracked, those eggs are extra special oniony good and you should eat them first.


My Mom doesn’t generally use it because my brother hates it.  When I make for myself I do.  Just as with the commercial kits it helps the dye penetrate the shell of the egg.  Most recipes recommend 2 or 3 Tablespoons per Quart, some people dip their eggs in Vinegar before boiling too.

Cold Dying

Mom’s is a general Boiled Color recipe, but there is a slightly different process that is recommended for some of the Alternate Color Natural Dyes (I’ve marked them below with a |(cd)|, it stands for Cold Dyed).

For this process you boil and cool your eggs separately and then make the dye in an isolated step.  Frankly I don’t see the necessity or advantage of this approach for most colors as the colder it is, the longer it takes for the dye to infuse.

In fact most recipes direct you to soak them overnight in the refrigerator though some are direct analogs of the store kit dye experience except that the colors are more… ah… subtle.

Basically you boil the dye ingredient separately in very little water, about a quart or so depending on the volume of the ingredient.  For a Paprika dye they recommend a half cup!  Boil for at least 30 minutes depending on the color intensity you want (it’s never as dark on the egg).

Strain.  Dip cold eggs in dye.  Leave in refrigerator overnight if necessary.  You will almost certainly want to use vinegar with this method.

Alternate Color Natural Dyes

If we are especially lucky or foresighted it’s sometimes possible to collect enough Red Onion skins to do a whole batch just Red.  Don’t bother trying to scrape them up off the bottom of the bin the week before, the good ones are already gone.

That’s the only one I have personal experience of and likewise has a yummy aroma, with some of the dye ingredients however you may wish to consider if you have a tolerance.  Some people don’t like cabbage, but the results are spectacular

  • Blue- Red Cabbage, Blueberry Juice
  • Brown- Black Walnut Shells, Onion Skins, Coffee (cd), Black Tea (cd)
  • Brown Gold- Dill Seeds (cd)
  • Green- Spinach
  • Green Yellow- Golden Delicious Apple Peels
  • Red- Red Onion Skins, Cranberry Berries
  • Orange- Cooked Carrots (cd), Chili Powder (cd), Paprika (cd) (also said to produce Peach or Salmon color, use lots)
  • Yellow- Carrot Tops, Orange or Lemon Peels, Chamomile (cd), Celery Seed, Ground Cumin, Ground Tumeric, Green Tea (cd)

I got that list as well as my Cold Dying recipe from WhatsCookingAmerica.net.  Other than Cooked Carrots I can’t see the need and couldn’t you cook them within an inch of their life in, oh, half an hour or so?

Maybe it’s just harder to clean up some ingredients without rubbing the color off.

Beet juice dye is very strong and will result in red tones from pink to grey depending on how much you use and how long you leave the eggs in contact with it.  Most people recommend using the cold method with beets.

Dying Variations

Some people like to give eggs deliberately non uniform color treatment.  One common way to do this is to be extra specially careful removing the onion skins and then wrapping each egg individually with a nylon stocking pouch or with rubber bands holding the dye material next to the egg.  You’d use this with Boiled Color recipes.

For a mottled effect you can also dab with paper towels or sponges before the color fully sets.

Some techniques require a Cold Dye method, for instance wrapping with dye infused cloth or paper towels.

Resist Techniques

By creating dye resistant areas on the egg you can make designs or personalize them with people’s names (which my Mom did for us).  The most common tool (included in most dye kits) is a wax crayon.  Any color will do, but the way you remove it is to melt the wax off in a hot bath after the dye has set.  Don’t scrub or scratch it.  Crayons are not usually compatible with the Boiled Color method and are less successful the hotter your dying solution.

Resists that do work with Boiled Color are Rubber Bands and this innovative technique from Green Momma on a Budget.  She puts small leaves or flowers on the egg and wraps with dye material in a tight nylon pouch and gets images of the leaves and flowers.

Hard Boiled Eggs

I like them with just salt and pepper, still they’re just fine deviled, sliced or chopped on a salad, or in an egg salad, but in a potato salad not so much (not a big fan of potato salad).

You can also pickle them.

Pickled Eggs

There are a zillion recipes for pickled eggs some of which incorporate your dye ingredients and which would be most appropriate to compliment and enhance eggs dyed that way (Dill, Chili, Onion, Beets, Celery Seed, Cumin, Tumeric).

One thing they all share in common is that you peel the eggs first.

Still your naturally dyed eggs do retain the scent of the dye so you might want to think about that before you start adding Ginger or Garlic.

What they share in common is a solution of Water and Vinegar which you adjust depending on how sour you like it (1:1 is a good place to start)

Salt, Sugar, and Pickling Spice (usually containing Mustard Seed, Peppercorns, and Bay Leaf) are added to adjust the flavor.

Cover the Eggs and let them sit for at least a couple of days (better a week or more) refrigerated so they pick up the pickling flavor.  If you’re going to use Garlic, Chili, Onions, or Beets at all I recommend whole cloves or chilis or big slices of onions or beets, because the object is to infuse the flavor and not over power the eggs.

Likewise Sugar and Salt in small doses.

Alton Brown offers 2 recipes-

Dark and Lovely
  • 2 1/4 C Cider Vinegar
  • 3/4 C Water
  • 1 1/2 T Sugar
  • 1 T Salt
  • 1 1/2 t Pickling Spice
  • 3/4 t Chili Flakes
  • 1/4 t Liquid Smoke

  • 2 1/4 C Cider Vinegar
  • 3/4 C Champagne Vinegar (slightly less acidic)
  • 1 T Salt
  • 2 t Pickling Spice
  • 6 Whole Cloves Garlic

Heat your solution to make sure the Salt and Sugar are thoroughly dissolved.  Don’t heat your whole ingredients (Garlic, Chili), add them with the Eggs to your container and pour the Pickling Solution over the top.

Well I’m out of ideas, but I suppose there are other things.  I try not to eat more than 3 a day because some people worry about cholesterol, but I don’t get more than dozen from Mom so they seldom last.

My preferred method of cooking eggs is over easy on garlic toast with the yolks nice and runny.

Sometimes I’ll make up a smaller batch of onion skin eggs for myself if I miss them.


One of the by products is a whole pile of peeled onions.  One way to get rid of a large quantity of onions is French Onion Soup.

Here’s a fairly decent recipe-



  • Butter
  • Onions (about 3 pounds), sliced thin
  • Salt
  • 7 3/4 cups Chicken and Beef broth (less Beef than Chicken depending on how beefy you like it)
  • 1/4 cup dry Red Wine
  • 2 sprigs fresh Parsley
  • 1 sprig fresh Thyme
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
  • Fresh ground Black Pepper


  • 1 Baguette, cut on the bias into 3/4-inch thick slices
  • Grueyer Cheese
  • Oven Proof Crocks

Directions: Melt enough butter on the bottom of a soup pot to coat the onions.  The traditional way to slice them is thin strips from bottom to top.  This is easiest if you cut it in half lengthwise and leave on the root end until you have sliced it.  Then cut off the root.

Toss in a little salt and brown them at medium of medium high until they are dark, dark brown and the pot is coated with dark brown fond.  Thirty five minutes or more.

Deglaze pot with liquid (except Balsamic Vinegar) stirring thoroughly to release all the fond.  Add herbs, bundled so you can remove them and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes or so.  Remove herbs.  Add Balsamic Vinegar. Soup can be cooled and stored.

Topping: While the soup re-heats (if cold) toast your baguette slices.  Toast them quite crispy because they will soften up.  Spoon hot soup into Crock about 3/4 an inch from the rim.  Float toast on top of the soup covering as much soup as you can.  Use extra pieces if you need to.  Mound shredded Grueyer over the top of each Crock and broil until the Cheese is bubbly and a little brown.

Piping hot!  Watch out.


  1. ek hornbeck
  2. TMC

    tie the herbs in a cheese cloth sac with some butcher’s string. It makes them really easy to move and no little bits escape

Comments have been disabled.