While Chinese parents give out red eggs to wish a newborn good luck, Greek families use red eggs at Easter in a special bread, which is how I encountered them some 20 years ago.
Back then, I successfully boiled fresh white eggs with water, food coloring and vinegar to turn out eggs with a deep red color that held during baking. More recent attempts to dye red eggs have been less spectacular. Seems today the eggs are coated with stuff that stands in the way of a good dye job.
First stop in my research was Georgia’s Greek Taverna in Greenwood, a neighborhood restaurant and grocery here in Seattle. Yes, a Greek woman told me – there is a problem with dyeing eggs these days. Our answer, she said, is to not bake the eggs with the bread and to add them later. Good solution; not great solution. I bought some real Greek egg dye and came home to experiment further.
My next stop was the internet, where I got some confounding news. According to the journal Scientia Agricola in Brazil, it’s been standard practice for some years to coat eggs with egg albumin, soybean protein isolate, wheat gluten, mineral oil, or even acrylonitrile, which sounds suspiciously like plastic to me. These coatings are meant to put up a barrier to moisture and air transfer. But while they’re better for the health of the egg and its shelf life, these coatings also keep dyes from adhering.
So here’s the recipe I settled on for a compromise solution. The finished eggs showed a few streaks and spots that I’ll chalk up to character. This method gave me good results using storebought white eggs, and the dye held (mostly) while the eggs were baked into the bread.
But by all means, if you’re looking for better results, go out and find some uncoated eggs. After all, the old ways are often the best!
Dyed Red Eggs
6 large white eggs
3 cups cold water
1 package Greek red egg dye (available at specialty stores)
½ cup boiling water
½ cup vinegar
1 teaspoon red food coloring (use 2 teaspoons if no Greek dye is available)
- Scrub the raw eggs with liquid dish soap and warm water, rinse well and pat dry.
- Put 3 cups cold water into a 1 ½ quart saucepan and gently put in the eggs. Turn heat to medium.
- Mix Greek dye with ½ cup boiling water in a cup, and add to the saucepan. Bring the mixture slowly to the boiling point, which should take 10 or 15 minutes. Slow is better, so as not to crack the shells.
- Once the water is near the boil, add the vinegar. Unfortunately, this will precipitate out the Greek dye, but it will also fix the color to the shell.
- Add the food coloring, boil the eggs for 8-10 minutes and remove from heat.
- Let the eggs stay in the hot water/dye solution for a further 15 minutes before removing to a rack to cool.
- For best results, rub the eggs when nearly cool with a small amount of olive oil. After all, studies show that coating eggs helps to preserve them!
- If using for the Easter bread, you’ll want to let these eggs sit for an hour or so before adding to the dough.