Does the Shell Egg Color Make a Difference?
It has been said many times, in many places, but it bears repeating…the color of the egg shell does not indicate higher quality or better nutrition. Generally speaking, chickens with white feathers and ear lobes lay white eggs; breeds with red feathers and ear lobes lay brown eggs.
Somehow brown color egg shells became associated with healthy, farm fresh eggs and white shells gained a negative reputation.
There are perfectly healthy, good-for-you eggs with white shells. The more important factor for me relates to how the chicken is raised.
The vast majority of chickens in North America are raised in some form of conventional hen house. Don’t be fooled by labels in organic and regular supermarkets today. So called free-range chickens will more than likely never see a blade of grass in their life.
Egg Related Terms And What They Really Mean:
“Free-range” — The term is meant to imply pasture raised, but it really means that the chickens have access to the out of doors. It can be a dirt lot at the end of a large organic confinement chicken house.
“Free-roaming” — The term means that the chickens are housed on the floor of a large confinement chicken house instead of in small wire cages. They most likely do not have access to the out of doors.
“Cage-free” — The term is basically the same as “Free-roaming”
The real benefits come from those chickens who are pasture raised.
What is the difference?
Pasture raised chickens spend the better part of their day outside, eating grass and insects and getting fresh air and sunshine. This requires larger amounts of open space. Additionally, the chickens need to be moved periodically. This is more costly and time consuming, which is why large distributors won’t do it.
I can personally attest to one thing – chickens raised this way produce eggs of a superior taste! I have eaten pasture raised chicken eggs from a farm north of Washington, DC and at the home of our wine growing friends, Deb and John, in California. The egg taste compared to conventional methods is like the difference between garden fresh tomatoes and hot house ones. If you taste eggs from pasture raised chickens, you will not want to go back.
On top of the great taste, studies indicate these type of eggs possess a higher nutritional value. Various independent studies have shown that eggs produced by pasture raised chickens, fed a healthy grain diet, are higher in Omega-3 fatty acids and lower in saturated fats. This is one reason why you are now seeing companies feeding chickens special diets to boost their Omega-3s. Beware of contradictory studies funded by large self serving agribusiness.
Other Egg Misinformation:
Yolk color myth – indicates a healthier, better tasting egg. I used to think darker yolks were better and have since learned this is NOT true. Yolk color is determined by the diet of the chicken. If the hen gets plenty of yellow/orange plant pigments known as xanthophylls, you will see a darker more appealing yolk. Hens fed mash containing yellow corn and alfalfa meal will have eggs with medium yellow yolks. Those who eat wheat or barley will have lighter colored yolks. A diet of white cornmeal produces nearly colorless yolks. To enhance yolk color, natural yellow/orange elements like marigold petals can be added to light colored feeds to enhance yolk color. No one is allowed to use artificial additives to enhance yolk color. A darker yolk can affect the color of products made with them such as pasta. And finally, regardless of color, the yolk is where you find the nutrients and naturally occurring vitamin D. The egg white is mostly protein.
Egg freshness test – you cannot tell the freshness of an egg by placing it in salt water. The old adage is, if an egg floats in salted water, it is spoiled and unsafe to eat. In fact, eggs would unsafe to eat well before they would float in water. Interestingly, eggs older than one week are easier to peel, when boiled, than fresher eggs. However when poaching eggs, you will want the freshest egg possible. A fresh egg will hold its shape in the water better. Properly stored eggs will remain safe to use for several weeks. If you have any doubts about the freshness of the egg, do not use it.