A time to dye

(Yes, I know, a cheap play on words. My apologies for not resisting the temptation.)

From the blog of San Francisco’s Chronicle Books on the 23rd, a notice for a book about using kitchen waste, with a section on dyeing Easter eggs with vegetable waste:


From the notice:

Gone are the days of relying on synthetic store-bought dye for Easter eggs — you can create wonderful, deeply colored eggs with leftover scraps you have in your kitchen. Our source is Waste Free Kitchen Handbook author Dana Gunders, a scientist working on food and agriculture with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Subsequently, she possesses a wealth of knowledge on how to eat well and save money by wasting less food (did you know about 40% of all food in the United States doesn’t get eaten?).

The Easter egg dyeing idea is earnest and well-meant, but it borders on the absurd. First of all, of the six dye jobs in the photo, only two use actual food waste: the yellow onion skins and the red onion skins, and you need to save up a cup of either one per cup of water per egg. Two of the dyes require that you chop up vegetables: red cabbage, red beets. The other two require fresh ingredients: a Red Zinger tea bag (unused), ground turmeric. There’s not much saving going on here.

Then, the attraction of the whole thing is that you’re using “natural” ingredients rather than “synthetic” ones. But in fact the commercial Easter egg dyes are all vegetable dyes (and not, say, aniline dyes derived from coal tars), but processed into tablet or liquid form.

Finally, the preparation is fairly tedious. The instructions call for you to bring the water and vegetable matter to a boil and then simmer for 15-30 minutes, then add a tablespoon of white vinegar and soak the eggs in this for 30 minutes. You need enough liquid to completely cover the eggs, and you’ll need to turn the eggs every so often to ensure that they’re evenly dyed (use an implement for this, or wear rubber gloves, since you don’t want to dye your fingers). Oh yes, the one time Ann Daingerfield and I tried this routine, the eggs needed to soak for more like an hour than 30 minutes. So the whole process takes a good bit of time, and (in my experience) the resulting dye job is a lot subtler than the ones in the photo above, especially for the onion skins.

The commercial products. The two big names are Paas / PAAS (a specialty firm) and McCormick (a big company supplying a wide range of spices, herbs, and flavorings).

From Wikipedia:

Paas (trademarked as PAAS) is a brand of Easter egg dye. It is owned by Signature Brands, LLC.


The original Paas Easter egg dye was invented by an American named William Townley. Townley was an owner of a drug store in Newark, New Jersey, where he concocted recipes for home products. In 1893, he figured out how to concentrate dye in tablet form and launched the modern Easter egg dyeing kit. The original price of each tablet was five cents, and customers would make the dye by combining the tablets with water and vinegar. Townley eventually renamed his business the Paas Dye Company. The name Paas comes from “Pasen,” … Dutch … for Easter.

In 1901, according to a State of New Jersey inspection report, seven men and twenty women were employed in Townley’s production facility at 60 Shipman Street in Newark. Paas eventually became the largest manufacturer of Easter egg dyes

Then there’s McCormick, like Paas offering quite a variety of Easter egg dye kits, including this one:

On the company, from Wikipedia:

McCormick & Company is a Fortune 1000 company that manufactures spices, herbs, and flavorings for retail, commercial, and industrial markets. The company began in 1889 in Baltimore, Maryland, United States. One hundred years later, McCormick moved from downtown Baltimore to the suburb of Hunt Valley, Maryland. McCormick has approximately 8,000 employees…

Its brands include McCormick; Zatarain’s, Lawry’s, Old Bay Seasoning, Mojave Foods, Thai Kitchen and Simply Asia (United States); Ducros, Drogheria & Alimentari, Kamis, Margao, Silvo, and Vahine (Europe); Club House spices and Billy Bee Honey (Canada); Schwartz (United Kingdom); Aeroplane Jelly and Keen’s Mustard (McCormick Foods Australia).

Earlier on this blog, from 4/17/14, “Lurid Easter food”, on vintage (1957) McCormick colors “for the gayest Easter eggs”.

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