If you do a lot of home cooking, you know just how important eggs are to a wide variety of recipes. On the one hand, they’re a hearty and quick breakfast food which provide a nice package of protein and nutrients in the morning. On the other, we end up using eggs as a critical ingredient in all manner of baked goods such as cookies and cakes. Because the demand for good eggs is so huge, consumers have tons of choice when it comes to buying eggs.
But do we really understand what make a good egg?
While we’ve all heard egg-related terms like organic, cage-free, free-range and grain-fed.
Still, many of these probably seem like empty food marketing terms. What we really want to know above all else is how healthy our eggs are, if we’re paying a good value for them and what to look for in an egg to determine whether it’s good or not. As it turns out, there’s a relatively easy and straightforward way to see how “good” your eggs are.
The answer lies in the color of the yolk itself.
As any amateur food scientists out there may know, the color of the yolk is largely determined by the diet of the hen.
Looking past all the marketing, the ideal diet for chickens and hens is one where they have room to forage for themselves. In nature, hens will walk around and scratch at the ground, eating seeds, insects, grain bits and other things that give them what they need. In a commercial farm, many chickens may only get to eat commercial poultry feed, which is mostly corn (and is thus less healthy).
As a result of all this, a healthy hen fed a balanced diet will lay eggs with rich, orange yolks.
Though we might not always notice the difference, there is quite a range in the color of egg yolks.
The dark color of the yolks is often correlated to how rich they are in helpful nutrients such as omega-3 acids, carotenoids and luteins. Strangely enough, our instinct may be to say that egg yolks are and should be yellow! As it turns out, a yellow yolk is a sign of an egg that is not particularly dense in nutrients and may be factory farmed.
As a result of cheap farming practices and consumer preferences, we’ve lost track of what good eggs are!
To sum up, we’ll do a quick breakdown of what to look for at the store to get great eggs.
If you see labelling that says the chickens were vegetarian or exclusively grain-fed, that’s somewhat of a red flag. Chickens are not naturally vegetarian and are able to eat some meat and some grain! On the other hand, “cage-free” doesn’t mean much, either—this just means the birds can move around a room or a building. Who knows how many other chickens are in there with them! “Free-range” is a little better, as the chickens are at least allowed outdoors… though how often and how much space is also ill-defined.
Pasture-raised may be your best bet for old-fashioned farming practices, though this category is also not well-defined.
Perhaps best of all is to get to know a local farmer to get your eggs!
If you have a relationship with a few small suppliers, you can be sure the chickens your eggs come from are being fed and treated in a way that’s right for you. But if you have a few extra dollars and want to experiment a little, buy a few local brands all at once and take them home. Crack them into a pan and do your own yolk comparison—chances are, you should go with the brand that has the richest and most orange yolk.
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