Hard-Boiled Advice on How to Dye Easter Eggs

A dye made with beets produces a soft baby's blush pink. Red cabbage makes blue like a morning sky. The emerald green tone was achieved by mixing a yellow dye made from turmeric with the cabbage dye and letting a brown egg soak in it overnight.

I blame a childhood deprived of egg hunts, trick-or-treating and birthday parties for an adult obsession with themed crafts and event planning. Valentine’s Day? I handcraft my own pop-up card. Christmas? Let’s put on a play! Your fish died? Here’s a tiny box I bedazzled for his burial. Also, I’ve taken the liberty of choosing some music I think he would have liked for the service. It starts at sunset. You’re coming—right?

So it was the Sunday before Easter when I set my sights on dyeing eggs. What fun! I took a spin around the Internet, peeked at a couple of food blogs, checked out Nourish Network, and, of course, consulted Martha Stewart. While I immediately was able to disregard her suggestion to use eggs of varying sizes acquired from quails, geese and ostriches, what caught my eye was the idea of cooking up my own dyes using beets, red cabbage and turmeric to create primary colors.

To make things interesting, however, I decided it would only be fair to try out a traditional store-bought kit as well. And after three days of devoting spare time to dyeing eggs and cleaning the kitchen, I’ve concluded Martha Stewart is the devil, and Paas, with its happy bunny and irresistible candy colors, is running a close second.

Really, they are to blame for long hours spent chopping and dicing, simmering potfuls of inedible soup, and washing dishes. Lots of dishes. They are at fault for stains no bleach will whiten, the Lord’s name taken in vain and a mound of boiled red cabbage in the refrigerator. Then, of course, there are the eggs. Two dozen of them.

But, oh, what pretty eggs they are.

Soft, subtle shades of baby’s blush, morning sky, fresh butter and summer grass. Deep, rich hues of emerald, saffron and terra-cotta. Acid-bright tones of yellow, green and blue.

If you’re patient and don’t mind a mess, either method will produce eggs too beautiful to let anyone think they were brought by the Easter Bunny. Go ahead and brag.

Purchasing the raw ingredients to make dyes was a little spendy, so it’s not a good project if you’re pinching pennies. Fresh beets, a head of red cabbage, a dozen white eggs, and a 16-ounce bottle of store-brand distilled white vinegar ran me $9.02 at a local store. The turmeric and salt came from my own cupboard. I also purchased a dozen organic brown eggs—again at the suggestion of Martha Stewart—with which to experiment. Those were $3.99. I suggest sticking with white eggs.

In comparison, the Paas dye kit cost $2.71, including tax, on sale. Add a dozen eggs and the vinegar, and the total is $6.49—about 28 percent cheaper.

To make dye, I followed the instructions from Serious Eats. For red, I chopped two beets (about ¾ pound), which got combined with 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 quart of water in a saucepan. The mixture was brought to a boil, then simmered for 30 minutes. For blue, I followed the same vinegar, salt, water measurements and added about 1 pound of chopped red cabbage, which simmered 30 minutes. For yellow, repeat the liquids and salt, add about 6 tablespoons turmeric, and bring to a boil. No need to let it simmer, however.

Let all the dyes cool before using.

To activate the Paas dyes, just drop one of the tablets into a cup or glass suitable for dyeing eggs and add 3 tablespoons of vinegar. Once the tablet is dissolved, add ½ cup of water. You’re ready to dye eggs.

The kit comes with nine dye tablets, several of which appear blue. You won’t really know what color you’re getting—blue, teal, denim, or purple—until you mix it up. There is also yellow, orange, pink, red and green.

One word of warning—the tiny tablets look just like candy. If kids are helping out, you might want to keep an eye on that. Nobody wants a purple mouth on their little angel.

Here are some tips:

  • Before starting, everyone should wash their hands with warm, soapy water. Eggs, even after being cooked, can carry bacteria, according to the Tips and Trivia page at the Paas website. Handling increases the risk of eggs coming into contact with bacteria. Washing will also remove any oils from your hands that may interfere with the dye transferring to the eggshell.
  • Along the same line, preparation and dyeing should be done on clean surfaces to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Hard-cook the eggs before dyeing. They’ll be easier to handle and less likely to break while you’re working with them. Martha Stewart’s website shows how to poke tiny holes in each end of the egg and “blow out” the contents, if you think you want to save your creations for posterity. It makes them fairly fragile, however.
  • Use a spoon or the wire egg dipper included with the kit to ease the egg into the dye bath. I plunked a couple in and cracked their little noggins before I learned my lesson.
  • Don’t wear anything you mind getting dye on.
  • If you’re going to hide the eggs for a hunt and plan to eat them afterward, you’ll need to be very careful about storing them beforehand and how long they’re left out. One rule of thumb suggests two hours is the most eggs should be at room temperature.
  • Refrigerate your eggs as soon as they’re decorated. According to the American Egg Board, hard-cooked eggs should be used within one week.