Several years ago, I set out on a quest to successfully dye a batch of eggs red using yellow onion skins. My first two attempts failed to even come close to that desired deep red I was told could be achieved using them. I searched and searched online and was basically left with trying to make my own recipe. That year, I did get my third batch of eggs to be dyed red but I think it was more luck than actually understanding or having a clear method of achieving it. (Basically, I figured out that I was using far too few onion skins for the dye bath.)
Every year since then, I have tried to understand natural dyes better and sought to find a repeatable recipe to use year after year. For the past three years, I have saved my yellow onion skins throughout Lent and then fill my 6 quart pot with them on Holy Thursday using the recipe and method below. Success! Every time!
This year, however, I counted the number of onion skins before dyeing my eggs, in order to have a more sharable method of naturally dyeing eggs for Pascha.
Here is my recipe and method:
- skins of 21 small/medium yellow onions
- 9 cups water
- 3/4 cup white vinegar
- 12-18 brown or white eggs (18 eggs are best for this recipe)
- olive oil for the end
Step 1: Save Your Yellow Onion Skins
You do NOT want the skins from sweet onions, which are actually yellow. You want the skins from what are called “yellow onions” but the skins are more of a reddish brown color. Make sure the onion skins can dry out wherever you choose to save them so they don’t get moldy.
Step 2: Prepare Your Ingredients
Bring your eggs out of the refrigerator so they can warm up to room temperature. They will crack if you take them straight from the refrigerator into the hot dye bath. Get your pot out, onion skins, white vinegar, measuring cup, wooden or plastic spoon, large bowl, strainer, cheesecloth, and large ladle.
Step 3: Fill a Large Pot with Your Onion Skins
I used a 6 quart pot and the skins of 21 small/medium onions for making my dye bath. (Approximately 15 large, yellow onions or fill the 6 quart pot) Note: if you are not using a stainless steel pot, then you might possibly dye the inside of your pot. I used my Dutch Oven, which it definitely stained it but it was really my only option unless I bought another pot. (Do not use anything other than a stainless steel or Dutch Oven because the metal the pots are made of can act as a mordant and change the results of your dye.)
Step 4: Make Your Dye Bath
Add 9 cups of water and 3/4 cup white vinegar – then bring to a boil. Stir, cover with a lid, and reduce to a simmer for 45 minutes. The vinegar acts as a mordant. I explain this to my kids by telling them that vinegar acts as a glue to stick the dye to the egg. Without the vinegar, your eggs will not turn red since onion skins can only be used as a dye and not a stain. (Dyes need a mordant and the color will stay true to the original color dyed on the material. Stains do not need a mordant but their color will fade over time.)
Step 5: Strain your Dye Bath
Place cheesecloth inside of your strainer and place the strainer over a stainless steel bowl. Carefully ladle your dye into the strainer, disposing the onion skins to the trash as needed throughout the process. You want every drop as possible of that dye bath. Make sure there are not any bits of onion skins left in the pot because they will leave marks on your eggs.
Step 6: Dye the Eggs
Carefully place 12-18 room temperature eggs into the dye bath. You can use either white or brown eggs, but I personally think the brown eggs produce a deeper red. (I had done a mixture of brown and white eggs when I was doing this.) Bring to a boil, then cover with a lid, remove the pot from that burner, and let sit for 11 minutes.
Step 7: Remove Eggs from Dye Bath
You need to immediately remove the eggs from the dye bath or they will overcook. Gently pat dry each egg with a napkin or paper towel and place the egg in the carton. When all the eggs are out of the dye bath and in the carton, then put them in the refrigerator to start cooling. Once they are cool enough to the touch, then gently wipe them with a bit of olive oil from a napkin. (Don’t rub too hard or you can potentially rub off the dye.) Then return the eggs to their carton and refrigerate until Pascha.
Brown vs. White Eggs
In the photo above, you can see the results of the brown eggs (left) after they had been dyed and the white eggs (right).