Read below for how to dye corn kernels for rich, even color. These colored popcorn kernels are perfect for art, crafts, sensory play, and decorating. They can also be used as manipulatives in math and literacy activities with the kids.
Colorful sensory materials really engage the kids in a wide variety of activities – from sensory play to math to art. The visual stimulation seems to draw the children’s interest in, doesn’t it?
I really, really wanted to use some colorful corn in a few preschool activities recently. Since I’d never created colored popcorn kernels before, I looked online for some suggestions. While there are tons of ideas for preparing, decorating with, and creating with corn, there weren’t too many ideas about HOW to dye corn kernels.
So, me being me, I turned it into my own little science experiment. I’m pretty sure my boss, my assistant, and my students all found this process very entertaining!
To clarify, the corn kernels are just regular ol’ popcorn kernels. 🙂
A Few Failed Experiments
First, I tried the baggy and food dye method. I placed some corn kernels in a plastic baggy, added some food coloring, zipped the bag, and shook everything up for a few minutes.
Even though this method works great when I dye pasta and rice, it didn’t cut it for the corn! The corn kernels have a smoother surface than rice or pasta, which is why I think this method didn’t work all that well. The dye stuck to some parts of the kernels but not others, and the color just wasn’t all that great.
Next, I tried adding a little bit of rubbing alcohol to the baggy that held corn and food coloring. Still the same problems. I tried a splash of vinegar too, but to no avail.
As I told the kiddos, though, when you’re conducting a scientific experiment you need to try more than one idea. This was also a great way to show the children that not all experiments are a success! 🙂
Finally, Success in Making Colored Popcorn Kernels
I kept plugging along until I came upon a method that worked incredibly well for me. To finally create a rich, even color on the corn kernels, I dyed them like I would dye Easter eggs!
When comparing the final batch to the original batch, there was a marked difference. The kids and I used all of the corn, even the botched attempts, but I definitely preferred the corn from my final batch!
How to dye corn kernels
1. Partially fill a cup, container, or plastic baggy with water. We used about 2/3 cup of water.
2. Add vinegar to the water. I found that having the amount of vinegar equal to the amount of water we used worked the best. So we used about 2/3 cup of water.
3. Add desired amount of food coloring to the water/vinegar mixture. Swish to distribute color. I used about a tablespoon for every cup or two of corn.
4. Add corn kernels to the container/baggy. Make sure the liquid completely covers the corn.
5. Allow to sit for a few hours. I let mine sit overnight.
6. Remove corn kernels using a slotted spoon.
7. Let corn dry completely.
Have you ever tried to dye corn kernels?
Fun Activities to Try Using Colored Popcorn Kernels
- Colorful Corn Mosaics
- Sweet-Smelling Candy Cane Sensory Play
- Christmas Contact Paper Art – A Seasonal Sticky Table
- Rainbow Activity with Colorful Corn Sensory Play
Where to Buy Colored Popcorn Kernels
Obviously, I love colorful corn for a variety of activities! But I know not everyone has the time or inclination to dye corn themselves.
So I thought I’d share some ideas for buying colored popcorn kernels instead.
Keep in mind, the only way to really get richly-colored rainbow corn is to dye it yourself. BUT you can also find a variety of non-yellow corn to purchase.
First, take a look at local grocery stores and chain stores. Keep an eye out for “gourmet” popcorn. You’ll often find multi-color corn kernels that way.
After that, you can check out corn kernels online. Below are some possibilities from Amazon. I haven’t had the chance to try these out, as I tend to prefer making my own!
- 4-pound jar of ruby red popcorn
- 6-pound bag of “midnight blue” kernels
- Black popcorn kernels
- 10-pack of gourmet popping corn
A note about using foods for sensory play and art
I know that some people are concerned about using food for art/crafts/sensory play/etc. There is a concern that it’s disrespectful towards children who might not be getting enough to eat at home.
While I certainly respect this concern, I do not agree. In the past, I have worked with children who weren’t getting enough to eat. As their teacher, and as a member of their community, I did all I could to ensure they were cared for and well-nourished. I would never let a child in my care go hungry, and their needs were (and always are) paramount in my mind.
It is still an issue that I concern myself with now, even though my current students don’t have those same problems. The food I use for crafts, sensory play, etc. are often stale or past their “sell by” dates. I take great care to keep the food in sealed containers to use again and again if it’s possible. Please know I mean no disrespect whatsoever.