Egg-ucation: You Can’t Judge a Book by It’s Cover

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.

The blue eggs seen here are likely from the breeds Ameraucana or Araucana. The tan ones may be from Andalusia or Australorp.

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.

There are probably two breeds of chickens eggs in this carton. These are less than a few days old, truly pastured, and come from my own county.

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.


9 responses to “Egg-ucation: You Can’t Judge a Book by It’s Cover

  • GrowTDay

    I get ill from store-bought commercial eggs, even “organic” ones not because of the egg itself, but because of how it is grown. I’m sensitive to pesticide/herbicide residues and the only eggs I can eat without a belly ache are my own pastured eggs.

    I sold eggs through a local bulk foods store before they got hit by the USDA for selling without a permit. During that time, though, I got all kinds of flack about the size of my eggs not being consistent, the colors not being right, and OMG, if I put a blue one in there, it would gross out the granny customers. Go figure.

    Now, I just tell people right up front that the eggs they buy from me will be of a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors and they wouldn’t be farm-raised if they were not different. I can even tell them which hen laid which egg, if they’d care to know.

    Thank you for a well written piece!

  • shwankie

    Thanks for commenting! I think the more educated people become, the more they’ll appreciate eggs like yours: nutritious and unique. Food that as uniform as most conventional/commercial stuff is just plain weird–nature doesn’t make things that uniform!

    Many people, I believe, that think they are allergic or intolerant to eggs may actually be reacting to the feed (hormones, pesticides, etc.), as you say. Some people who have soy intolerance often think they’re also allergic to eggs, but new research is showing they are probably just allergic to soy in the feed many chickens receive. It’s wonderful that you can raise your own birds so you can enjoy all the benefits of eggs without having to worry about having a negative reaction.

  • Stacie

    A friend of mine has some hens that are truly spoiled creatures. Those little ladies lay the prettiest eggs, too. I tell ya, they are colored so pretty like Easter eggs! And the yolks of those eggs are downright orange, which does put people off if they’re not expecting it.

    In Germany, grocery stores don’t keep eggs in refrigerated cases. They are out like canned goods. They don’t wash the cuticles off the eggs, so they are safe to stay out for about a week or so. I’ve heard that you can slather vaseline over eggs to keep them fresh long term, but I’m not sure if that’s true.

    Oh, how I want to keep some hens! Maybe we’ll get to a place that allows livestock, but for now we’re having to buy our eggs.

    Thanks for the article!

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  • Renee'

    I really enjoyed learning about eggs through your article. As someone who’s just learning about all the harmful toxins and pesticides that we’ve been being fed I’m really excited to learn the real differences and know where to spend my money. Great article & loved the other reader comments too.

  • Misti C.

    Shawn-Where can we get local farm raised eggs in Lynchburg.

    • shwankie

      Misti, you can get them from a few different places at the Lynchburg city market, including Auburnlea Farms (which is where we get our herd share for milk) and Spring Mill Farms (there are a few others, as well, but these are the two that I can think of off the top of my head). You can also pick up farm-fresh local eggs at Anderson’s Market in Madison Heights.

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