The other day, I was in the small store where I pick up my eggs and the woman in front of me asked me if I preferred the eggs I bought there (which are a variety of colors, including white) to the brown eggs I bought in the store. She went on to say she would only eat the brown eggs, not the white eggs, she got from Kroger because the white ones upset her stomach. Upon further discussion with her, it became clear that she thought there was some kind of difference internally because of the external shell color, which told me two things: 1) marketing works and 2) her stomach upset is likely totally psychosomatic.
Unfortunately, many people have been duped by marketers into thinking that brown eggs are somehow special. Many of the “special” eggs at the grocery store are brown exactly for this reason, and it’s been a very effective ploy. So I thought it was worth some time to clear up some things about eggs.
1. Shell color is a function of chicken species, and indicates nothing about how a chicken was raised or the nutritional value.
2. “Cage Free” eggs from most grocery stores are a waste of your money. The definition of “cage free” just means that the chickens aren’t raised in cages. In almost all commercial egg operations, they’re still de-beaked, never see the outdoors, eat exactly the same diet as birds in cages, and are still packed in tighter than sardines.
3. “Free Range” eggs from most grocery stores are just as big a waste of your money as “cage free,” and for the same reasons. Yes, that includes never seeing the outdoors.
4. You cannot tell if a chicken is free-range by it’s egg yolk color. There was a time, until fairly recently, that those of us advocating farm fresh, true free-range eggs pointed to the yolk color as an indicator. These yolks were made yellow by a the free-ranging diet that contained foods with a lot of pigment, which followed through to the egg yolks. Darker yellow also indicated fresher eggs. Unfortunately, commercial egg producers caught on, and many use either natural food dyes, like marigold petals, or unnatural food dyes to color the egg yolks.
5. Organic eggs receive no special treatment in the US. They are fed an organic diet, but currently studies don’t show a difference in nutritional value between organic commercial eggs and non-organic commercial eggs. I am not saying difference don’t exist, but thus far commercial eggs are commercial eggs as far as we can tell.
6. Studies show that eggs from hens raised on pasture have up to 4-6 times more vitamin D, 1/3 less cholesterol, twice as many Omega 3 fatty acids, 25% less saturated fat, more than triple the amount of beta carotene, and more vitamin A than conventional/commercial eggs. Typically, you must buy local eggs if you want pastured. It doesn’t matter what color they are.
7. A “vegetarian” diet doesn’t make for better eggs. Chickens aren’t suppose to be vegetarians, they’re intended to eat bugs and worms, as well as plant matter. That is where many of the nutrients that make eggs desirable come from. The insinuation behind “vegetarian” diet is that the chickens aren’t getting “weird” things that might be hiding diseases or something (mad cow? TB? I have no idea). The reality if they’re not getting organic feed, they’re getting pesticide-laden grains and vegetable scraps. If it is organic feed, they’re still missing the ingredients needed to give them the nutrition that pastured eggs have.
Marketing affects so much of what we eat. It’s often difficult to separate fact from fiction, reality from fantasy. Companies make a lot of money on food, and will go to fairly great lengths to get you to buy something for a higher price. Don’t fall for it. There’s definitely a place to spend more money on some food items, but it’s often not where the food producers and retailers want you to think it is. There’s no point in spending more money on something that’s exactly the same as something that is less expensive.
So the answer to the original questions of do I prefer farm-fresh, local eggs to commercial brown eggs is yes, but it has nothing to do with shell color.