Experiments with natural dyes and duck eggs part 1: cooking times and getting color to hold
I got it in my head that I wanted to figure out using natural dyes to dye our duck eggs. While I expected an adventure, it turned out to be more of an adventure than I anticipated.
I started, as one does, with a series of google searches. I looked at dozens of websites where homemakers and homesteaders described their perfectly successful natural egg dying experiences with beautiful pictures of colorful chicken eggs. I made a list of 42 possible dying agents to try.
42! Holy crap!
I embarked on experimenting with cooking times and color. These experiments all happened to the same batch of eggs, but I was assessing different things so will share them separately.
Some of the egg dying recipes on the internet say to boil the eggs in the dying agents. I didn’t try any of those this time since I don’t know enough about the process yet to combine different variables. Given what I’ve learned I may well do that in the future.
Shaun is the family cook and while we’ve been eating duck eggs for years, I had never hard boiled them before this project. He is working on his own experiments (watch for updates related to milling our own grain for animal feed and mealworm production soon!) so I was on my own and boiled all these duck eggs myself.
The internet was my friend and I found a useful description from Salt in my Coffee for how to hard boil duck eggs that I used and recommend. It had the added benefit of encouraging me to weigh all the duck eggs.
My tests included visual assessment, one bite of egg only with some yolk and some white, and the rest of the egg with garlic salt on it since I find that more delicious than plain eggs. We ate all these eggs over time, but I didn't track which were which to provide data about more than one dyed egg per batch. I only have pictures of the insides of the last batch of eggs. Left to my own devices, I am not very good at photo documentation.
I refer to eggs being “overcooked” and “undercooked” in my descriptions. There are a range of preferences about what that means, so you might want to cook your own eggs more or less than I did. I prefer my hard boiled eggs just inside the line of hard boiled from soft boiled, so everything is solid, but not cooked much, if at all, more than that. I prefer they have bright yellow or orange yolks with no grey on the edges. I prefer the whites to be firm, but not hard or rubbery.
SIZES OF DUCK EGGS
So far this year, our duck eggs are between 2.0 and 2.9 ounces. The smaller ones are small for duck eggs.
When a duck first begins to lay eggs, her eggs are smaller. We have some ducks who are in their second laying season and some ducks who are in their first laying season, so the eggs should get bigger over the year. We have seven duck varieties, so there will still be range, but by the end of the season, it should be closer to 2.4-3.4 ounces based on average egg sizes by breed charts I have seen.
I am excited to see if that bears out.
The dying process means adding boiling water to the already cooked eggs and letting them steep in that hot water as it cools. I wanted to see how that impacted the deliciousness of the boiled egg. I mean pretty eggs are nice, but I want to eat them after I look at how pretty they are. So I tried some adjustments.
BATCHES 1, 2, & 3
For the first three batches I followed the Salt in my Coffee instructions pretty exactly. The first batch of eggs was between 2.3 and 2.6 ounces and I let them sit in the hot water for 18 minutes. The next batch of eggs were 2.0 and 2.2 ounces and I let them sit in the hot water for 17 minutes. Batch three eggs were between 2.1 and 2.6 ounces and I let them sit in the hot water for 17 minutes.
I ate one from each batch and they were delicious!
I dyed the remaining eggs the same day I boiled them. After the water cooled on the counter, I put the dying eggs in the colored water in the refrigerator to steep overnight. I ate one from each batch the next day, after dying. They were, to my taste, overcooked. While the yolks were still a nice consistency, there was some discoloration at the edges of the yolk into the white. The white was a little rubbery.
With the idea that we’d let the eggs sit in the hot water for a shorter time after boiling them so the extra cooking from the dying process wouldn’t over cook them, I proceeded to shorten the cooking time.
These eggs were between 2.2 and 2.4 ounces. I let them sit in the hot water for 15 minutes. I actually meant to let them sit for less time, but I got distracted.
After boiling and before dying, I ate one of these. It was delicious and not undercooked.
I ate one of these the next day. The whites were still a little overdone after being dyed with the boiling water, but the edges of the yolk were not discolored.
BATCHES 5 & 6
The eggs in batch 5 were between 2.0 and 2.4 ounces. The eggs in batch 6 were between 2.0 and 2.7 ounces. I let both batches sit in the hot water for 12 minutes. They were delicious, and not undercooked.
Again, I ate one from each batch the following day, after the dying process. These were delicious but still slightly overcooked to my taste.
I didn’t assess which size egg I was eating out of the batches, so can’t say for sure the times work. My idea is to experiment a bit more with batches of uniform sizes to give me more specific data and to let them sit for a shorter time so the extra cooking from the dying process will definitely not over cook them. I expect this to be a longer term effort…
The eggs in batch 7 were between 2.0 and 2.9 ounces. I let them sit in the hot water for 10 minutes after boiling them. These were delicious, nearly perfect, and still not undercooked at all.
Again, I ate one from each batch the following day, after the dying process. These were delicious but still slightly overcooked to my taste. Interestingly, the egg I had after dying from this batch did have some discoloration around the yolk, reaffirming that using eggs of uniform size and assessing them will be useful for future assessments.
Over a few days I did six different batches of dye following various instructions for dying chicken eggs I found on the internet pretty closely. All these instructions included hot water, boiled eggs, and white vinegar.
BATCHES 1 THROUGH 4: BEETS
For the first four batches, I used chopped golden beets, grated golden beets, chopped red beets, and grated red beets, all brought to a boil and allowed to steep before pouring the colored water over the dyed eggs. I then let them cool on the counter then put them in the refrigerator overnight. All with vinegar.
These were all pretty much failures. About 15 hours after adding the colored water to the eggs, I took them out of the refrigerator and checked one egg out of each of the colors. The golden beet “dyed” eggs were barely colored at all. The eggs dyed in the red beets had a lot of color. The ones dyed with the grated beet water had more color than the ones dyed with the chopped beet color.
But wherever I touched them, the bloom wiped off and the color underneath was less vibrant.
The golden beet dyed eggs also were less vibrant where the bloom came off, but the difference was not significant given how pale they were even with the bloom.
When I wiped all the bloom off them, the red were still a pretty pink color.
Then put them in the refrigerator to see how the color would hold over time. By the next day the eggs dyed with the red beets were mottled and faded.
We took the other eggs out of the dye when they’d been sitting in the dye water for 48 hours. They were not any darker than the eggs we’d taken out 15 hours later and they had the same issue with the bloom. At this point, the eggs we’d taken out of the dye after 15 hours had lost almost all their color and had hardly any color left at all! The same fading pattern happened with the eggs that had been in the dye for 48 hours.
BATCH 5: RED CABBAGE
My first attempt to mitigate the issue with the color coming off with the bloom was to wash the eggs with soap and water before I boiled them.
The same issue with the bloom existed with the cabbage dyed eggs. When they came out of the water the next day, they were a pretty blue color. When I touched them, the bloom wiped off and the color underneath was less vibrant. I cleaned off the bloom and put them in the refrigerator overnight. The next day they had some color, but were mottled and much lighter. They continued to fade and by the second full day out of the dye, they had hardly any color at all. Another failure!
BATCH 6: GRAPE JUICE
I did a batch with plain concord grape juice and vinegar in a jar. I left it on the counter with the red cabbage water until it cooled, about two hours, then put it in the refrigerator overnight. When they came out of the grape juice the next day, they were amazing!
They had a weird hard shell on them. They were roughly textured, purple and blue and maroon. I was so focused on the bloom issue I aggressively wiped off the crust. It was roughly textured and difficult to remove. I could not remove it all using the techniques I'd used for all the other dyes--wiping with a barely damp rag and wiping with a rag and oil. I tried running it under water which didn't make a difference. When I got the crust off, I found strangely grey and purple blotchy eggs underneath.
I counted this batch a failure but in retrospect think the failure was in my seeing the beauty of what was created, not in the process to color the eggs.
My conjecture is that the bloom and grape juice had a chemical reaction.
BATCHES 7 & 8: HYPOTHESIS DEVELOPMENT AND TESTING
During this whole process, I was searching the internet for information on natural egg dyes for fresh duck eggs. Mostly people talk about chicken eggs. And the few references to fresh duck eggs indicated the same process as store bought or backyard chicken eggs would work. Even searching for failures, I found only one post but it didn’t provide a remedy.
I hypothesized that the vinegar was dissolving the bloom, so I modified my approach to test my hypothesis.
I soaked two eggs overnight in vinegar water--the same ratios I’d been using in the dye solutions, 2TBS vinegar to three cups of water.
I made one batch of red cabbage dye. Using the same dying solution process as before. I added chopped cabbage to water and brought it to a boil. I turned down the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes, then removed the cabbage bits. I poured the hot colored water into two 32 ounce canning jars: one with the eggs that had been soaked overnight in vinegar water and one with plain hard boiled eggs.
As before, I let it cool on the counter then put it in the refrigerator overnight.
The next morning, I took the eggs out of their dying solution. The cabbage eggs that had been soaked in the vinegar water solution overnight were the same as the eggs that had been dyed with vinegar.They had vibrant color when I took them out of the colored water, but the bloom wiped off and I was left with an unimpressive color.
The cabbage eggs that were dyed with no vinegar involved maintained their color! The bloom did not wipe off. The eggs that were dyed with red cabbage dye and with no vinegar involved maintained their color over days!
Since then, I’ve been using lots of natural egg dying recipes without vinegar to test colors. I am definitely getting variable results and am excited to share more, including more failures and actual recipes for dying fresh duck eggs that worked.