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Skip the Kit and Use Natural Dyes for Easter Eggs

Easter, Easter eggs, artificial colorings, natural food dyes

Dyeing Easter eggs is a tradition that symbolizes renewal and new life. However, with the health concerns about artificial dyes, you may be considering skipping the tradition. Instead of forgoing the fun, why not try using natural dyes instead?

Although most of us associate decorating eggs with Easter, the practice actually began thousands of years ago. Ostrich eggs with engraved decoration that are 60,000 years old have been found in Africa. More recently, within Christian religions, dyeing eggs is associated with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Most Americans probably have grown up using kits such as PAAS to color Easter eggs. The company was founded in 1880 by Mr. William Townley who developed a recipe for Easter egg dye tablets that tinted eggs in five cheerful colors. Today, there are many other options besides the basics, including tie-dye effects and neon colors.

However, today, many parents are concerned about the use of artificial colorings in their children’s food items. Although the synthetic dyes - which include FD&C Red No. 3, FD&C Yellow No. 6, FD&C Blue No. 2, FD&C Red No. 40, FD&C Yellow No. 5, FD&C Blue No. 1 – are FDA approved for commercial use, some studies have linked the colorings to health concerns such as allergies, ADHD, and even cancer.

“These synthetic chemicals do absolutely nothing to improve the nutritional quality or safety of foods, but trigger behavior problems in children and, possibly, cancer in anybody,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson, co-author of the report Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks. The Food and Drug Administration should ban dyes, which would force industry to color foods with real food ingredients, not toxic petrochemicals.”

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However, the FDA’s Food Advisory Committee has voted against banning artificial dyes at this time because there just is not enough evidence to conclude that the dyes are ultimately harmful to health. They do agree that more studies are needed into the association.

It is probably wise to limit your child’s – and your own – exposure to excess amounts of artificial colors. So instead of purchasing a kit of dyes and paints for your Easter eggs, try the following recipes to create your own natural dye baths.

To hard boil eggs, bring eggs and water to a full boil. Turn off the heat. Cover the pan and let the eggs soak for 14-17 minutes. Cool the eggs with cold water. Then select one of the following to color your eggs. Leave the eggs soaking in the dye in the refrigerator overnight for the richest colors.

Orange — Add 2 tablespoons of annatto seeds to a cup of boiling water with a teaspoon of vinegar. Let simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the seeds.
Light orange — Add a tablespoon of paprika powder to a cup of boiling water with a teaspoon of vinegar.
Faint Red-Orange - Stir 2 Tbsp. paprika into 1 cup boiling water; add 2 tsp. white vinegar.
Faint pink — Add a can of sliced beets to 2 cups of boiling water with a teaspoon of vinegar. Let simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the beets.
Blue — Add a cup of blueberries to 2 cups of boiling water with a teaspoon of vinegar. Let simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the blueberries. Alternatively, you can cut ¼ of a head of red cabbage into chunks and add to 4 cups boiling water. Stir in 2 tablespoons of vinegar then let cool to room temperature. Remove cabbage with slotted spoon and add eggs.
Brown — Add a teaspoon of vinegar to a cup of hot coffee. The stronger the coffee, the darker the dye.
Brown-gold - Simmer 2 Tbsp. dill seed in 1 cup water for 15 minutes; strain. Add 2 tsp. white vinegar.
Purple -- Add a teaspoon of vinegar to a cup of boiling grape juice.
Light green — Add 2 tablespoons of green tea powder to a cup of boiling water with a teaspoon of vinegar. Let simmer for 10 minutes.
Jade Green – Peel the skin from 6 red onions and simmer in 2 cups water for 15 minutes. Strain; add 3 teaspoons of white vinegar.
Bright yellow — Add a tablespoon of turmeric powder to a cup of boiling water with a teaspoon of vinegar.
Faint yellow - Simmer the peels of 6 oranges in 1-1/2 cups water for 20 minutes; strain. Add 2 tsp. vinegar.

Remember that once Easter eggs are decorated, follow these tips from USDA to prevent foodborne illness:
• Always buy eggs from a refrigerated case. Choose eggs with clean, uncracked shells.
• Buy eggs before the "Sell-By" or "EXP" (expiration) date on the carton.
• Take eggs straight home from the grocery store and refrigerate them right away. Check to be sure your refrigerator is set at 40°F or below. Don't take eggs out of the carton to put them in the refrigerator -- the carton protects them. Keep the eggs in the coldest part of the refrigerator — not on the door.
• Raw shell eggs in the carton can stay in your refrigerator for three to five weeks from the purchase date. Although the "Sell-By" date might pass during that time, the eggs are still safe to use. (The date is not required by federal law, but some states may require it.)
• Always wash your hands with warm water and soap before and after handling raw eggs. To avoid cross-contamination, you should also wash forks, knives, spoons and all counters and other surfaces that touch the eggs with hot water and soap.
• Don't keep raw or cooked eggs out of the refrigerator more than two hours.
• Egg dishes such as deviled eggs or egg salad should be used within 3 to 4 days.

USA Today
Better Homes and Gardens
US Department of Agriculture