- Farmer Brett
Experiments with natural dyes and duck eggs part 2: dying agents
Updated: Mar 21, 2021
I spent about a week working out how to get natural dye color to take and stay on fresh duck eggs. You can learn more about that here. The short version of what I learned is: Don’t use vinegar for natural dyes on fresh duck eggs with their bloom intact.
Once I found a process that worked, I proceeded to experiment with coloring agents with varying success. This post is an overview of the experiments. For the most successful, I have more description and some suggestions in this post.
Red cabbage, blueberries, blue potatoes, hibiscus flowers, and grape juice to make blues and purples
Red beets and cranberry juice to make reds
Activated charcoal to make black
So many things to get yellows and oranges, including golden beets with ground turmeric, ground turmeric alone, fresh turmeric, caraway seeds, paprika, red onion skin, yellow onion skins, and carrots
Carrot tops and parsley to make green
Multiple varieties of zinger teas to see if the outcomes were different--and golly were they!
A few notes on process:
I left all the eggs in the colored water overnight, so these results all reflect about 12 hours of soaking time. (I did take one yellow onion skin egg out early.)
I used jars with lids. I started with 32 ounce canning jars, but they were bigger than I needed for the 2-3 eggs I was dying in each color, so switched to jars that were between 12 and 16 ounces--some 16 ounce canning jars and some old salsa or tahini or similar jars. Those were a good size for 2-3 eggs and take up less room in the refrigerator.
Except for the grape and cranberry juice, all the other coloring agents were brought to a boil before dying. For the dyes made with plant matter (cabbage, beets, hibiscus flowers, etc.) I simmered them for 10 minutes after they boiled. For most of them I strained out the plant matter before adding the water to the eggs. For the spices, I just added boiling water to a jar with the spices and eggs already inside. For the teas, I put the tea bags into water and brought it to a boil. Then I moved the tea bags to the jar with the eggs and poured the water directly over the eggs.
BLUES AND PURPLES
I did three batches. One was 6 ounces of chopped red cabbage in four cups of water. One was 12 ounces of chopped red cabbage in six cups of water. One was 7.3 ounces of chopped red baggage in three cups of water. 6-7 ounces was about a quarter of a large head and would be equal to about a half a small head. The red cabbage worked to make light blue eggs! The cabbage itself turns blue after it is boiled and cools, which I also found interesting. I did multiple batches of red cabbage and it consistently turned the eggs blue.
I had blueberries in my freezer that we picked at Blue Dog Farm in 2018. I was worried the fact that they were so old would mean they wouldn’t work. But they did!
I used a single wire potato masher to mash one cup of blueberries that were mostly still frozen when I mashed them. I boiled them in three cups of water.
The blueberries made purple eggs. I left them in the colored water overnight, but think you could take them out earlier and get a lighter color. (This picture doesn't capture the richness of the color, which you'll see in the next post.)
I was excited to try blue potatoes since we grew them and still have enough left that we are eating them a couple of times a week. I used about two large handfuls of All Blue potatoes cut into ¾ inch cubes and about three cups of water. The eggs were slightly grey when I took them out of the water 12 hours later. They were even less grey after dying than the natural color of most of the eggs the Cayuga ducks lay.
While the eggs didn’t dye particularly, we had very delicious mashed potatoes from the process!
Our hibiscus tree didn’t bloom last year--probably related to stress from the move and being transplanted. We bought bulk dried hibiscus flowers from our local co-op.
For the first batch, I did 1½ cups of hibiscus flowers in four cups of water. The first time I removed the flowers before soaking the eggs. The second time I did ½ cup in three cups of water and left the flowers in when I soaked the eggs. I didn’t find significantly different results with more flowers.
The water in the first batch turned to a sludgy gloppy mess. To my eye, it looks like coagulated blood. Even though I’d strained out out most of the flowers, there were glops in the water when I took the eggs out of the water the next day. When I left all the flowers in, they seemed to stay more intact.
The hibiscus flowers created a mottled purple. The eggs were cracked in the process and the cracks definitely were dyed, which created a neat effect. Shaun really likes the hibiscus flower dyed eggs. I think they might be useful for a Halloween or similar occasion.
Some sources on the internet indicated the eggs would be black, but that was not the outcome I got. I am curious if adding vinegar would change the color. If I was dying store-bought eggs, I might try that.
We used Concord grape juice with no sugar added. We didn’t heat the grape juice up, just poured it over the eggs in a small jar. We did it three times. The color turned out a little different all three times even though we used the same brand of grape juice and soaked them for about the same length of time.
The grape juice creates a very interesting effect. They are multicolored--heavy on the purple--and sort of sparkly or glittery. They have a sort of shell. Shaun described them as looking like dinosaur eggs.
After we removed the eggs, the grape juice had some fine sentiment that we conjecture was from the egg shell. We drank the juice anyway and it tasted fine.
After a few days, almost a week, the finish did start to flake off on everything it was near.
The red beets I did with vinegar had been promising, so I did them again without vinegar. I used three grated large beets and three cups of water.
The eggs were a sort of reddish brown color. I did not find them attractive and the color was definitely not spring like to my eye. I’ll do beets again in the future to see if I can figure out a better outcome.
I thought cranberry juice might produce an effect similar to the grape juice. I was wrong.
I used pure cranberry juice with no sugar added. As with the grape juice, I just poured it over the eggs in a small jar. When I checked them after about an hour, I could see what I believe was the bloom sloughing off.
When I took the eggs out of the jar after 12 hours they had a coating on them that came off when I touched it. When I wiped them, almost all the color came off.
I think the cranberry juice's acidity removed the bloom and then the color didn't stick.
I was so excited to try the activated charcoal. The black eggs I saw on other people’s websites were amazing! I used ⅓ cup of activated charcoal in three cups of water, following these instructions, minus the vinegar.
I’ve never worked with activated charcoal before. It was a mess! It was very easy to clean up, just requiring a damp cloth, but it got everywhere! Besides the dust that came out of the jar when I opened it and the dust that dispersed when I interacted with the charcoal at all, the steam was filled with charcoal and everywhere the steam reached had a layer of charcoal dust.
When I took the eggs out of the water the next day they had a layer of wet charcoal on them. When I wiped them off, they were almost completely uncolored. I am curious if adding vinegar would interact with the charcoal to create more of a dying agent. If I was dying store-bought eggs, I might try that.
(The egg on the left is an Ancona egg, which sometimes have spots, which you can see here.)
YELLOWS AND ORANGES
GROUND TURMERIC--WITH AND WITHOUT GOLDEN BEETS
I’d tried golden beets alone before I figured out not to include vinegar, but that didn’t result in enough color even before I wiped the eggs off, so I didn’t bother doing it again. But I decided to see if the recommendation from this website to combine beets and turmeric would make a difference. I modified the recipe and used three (huge) golden beets and 1 TBSP ground turmeric. Separately, for comparison, I did a 3 TBSP ground turmeric and three cups of boiling water.
The next day all the eggs were golden yellow! (The ones on the left in the photo are from beets and turmeric, the ones on the right are turmeric alone.)
The eggs dyed in with the beet and turmeric water were very slightly brighter, but not enough to be worth the work to peel and grate three beets. The difference also didn’t seem to last past a few hours after they dried. I did enjoy the greens and the pigs enjoyed the boiled beet remains, but overall, it wasn’t worth the effort to me. This might be different with store-bought eggs using vinegar.
While the water was all orangey yellow, the turmeric settled into the bottom, so I think less turmeric might work just as well.
I used about three ounces or a little over two inches of turmeric, grated, in three cups of water.
The eggs are a little duller and more mustard than the ones dyed with ground turmeric. But they are a reasonable yellow.
I also tried paprika and whole caraway to create yellow and orange. For each of these I added three cups of boiling water to 3 TBSP of the spice and water in a jar. Neither appreciably colored the eggs.
ONION SKINS--RED AND YELLOW
I did two batches of yellow onion skins and one batch of red onion skins. For each I used the skins of six onions and four cups of water.
I only used the papery skins and didn’t include any juicy onion parts. The papery skins don’t absorb water when you boil them, so I pushed the skins into the water several times while the water was heating and while it was simmering to ensure as much surface area of the skins were in the water as possible. I have no idea if that made a difference.
I soaked the eggs in the colored water overnight. They came out almost exactly the same color, a rusty orange. The color is very matte, which I quite like. I took one egg out after only an hour and it was lighter. It would be fun to do a bunch of eggs with onion skins and take them out every hour to see how the color evolves. The color in the second batch of yellow onions was lighter. This might have been because the onions were smaller, but I can’t be sure.
I used eight medium sized carrots grated in three cups of water. They did pretty much nothing to color the eggs.
CARROT TOPS AND PARSLEY
I used the tops of eight medium sized carrots chopped in three cups of water. Separately I used about a cup of parsley with just the leaves chopped in three cups of water. They did pretty much nothing to color the eggs. The carrot tops gave the eggs a very faint green hue.
I tried multiple varieties of zinger teas to see if the outcomes were different--and golly were they!
Stash Wild Raspberry Hibiscus--green--highly recommend!
Tazo Passion Tea--almost no color at all
Simple Truth Organic Hibiscus, Strawberry & Raspberry--dark tan
Celestial Seasoning Wild Berry Zinger--light brown
After this, I have some actual recommendations for dying fresh duck eggs with natural dyes. I look forward to sharing that soon! Here are some successful eggs with hints about some of the recommendations.