Eggs are a favorite food among meat eaters as well as vegetarians. Americans consume them at breakfast, and throughout the day. If you enjoy eggs, and want to be an educated shopper, here are six things you must know.
1. Eggs from commercial, pastured, free-range, or vegetarian-fed chickens – what do the labels mean?
Commercial eggs are the inexpensive eggs you see on supermarket shelves. They are produced by chickens raised in inhumane and highly unhygienic conditions. If you haven’t seen the videos, watch the documentary, Food, Inc.
Pastured chickens are permitted to roam, hunting and pecking on the ground for bugs and grass. They get all the nutrition they need naturally, and they are the gold standard in producing nutritious eggs. If you know a farmer, that is the best source. Vital Farms is a brand available in some markets.
More and more stores are stocking free-range eggs, from chickens who are allowed “some form of outdoor access.” This amount of outdoor access is unspecified, and while they are undoubtedly better than commercial eggs, know there are no clear standards.
Vegetarian fed (or organic) just means that the chickens were not fed animal protein. Unfortunately, this means they were not allowed the freedom to eat bugs. They are certainly better than commercial eggs, as you know the hens were not fed scraps of dead chickens or other animals.
2. Pastured eggs are much higher in nutritional value than commercial eggs. They have four to six times more vitamin D.
3. Pastured eggs have the dark orangey-yellow yolks, because of the high quantity of beta-carotene, leafy greens, and protein in the hens’ diets. Generally, commercial eggs have pale yolks, although some farmers supplement the diets of their hens with canthaxanthin to simulate the color (this is a chemical used in “sunless tanning” pills).
4. Eggs come with a natural coating called a “bloom.” It protects the eggs and keeps them fresh for a week or two. Commercial egg producers wash off the bloom and cover the eggs in mineral oil instead. Either way, refrigerate your eggs after purchase to keep them fresh.
5. The color of the eggshell does not affect the taste or nutritional content.
6. To judge the freshness of an egg, place it carefully in saltwater. Just dissolve two tablespoons of salt in two cups of cold water and lower the egg into it. If it sinks and stays down, it is fresh. If it floats at an angle toward the bottom, it is starting to age. If it floats, discard it.