While roaming the aisles of your neighborhood market, you will pass one of the world’s most common household items: eggs. However, the variety of eggs available to consumers has significantly increased over the years. It’s easy to see how consumers are overwhelmed by all of the choices, wondering how each egg is different and if one variety is better than the other, but fear no more. The list below will be your new guide.
Conventional: These are standard supermarket eggs. Hens are kept in cages that have 67-116 square inches of space per bird, and their enclosures double as their nesting space. Their diets are grain-based, supplemented with calcium and phosphorus for building egg shells. 95% of the eggs in the US are produced in conventional facilities.
Cage-Free: Hens are free to move around an open space or building, with about 1 square foot of space per bird. They have unlimited access to food and fresh air, but do not have access to outdoor spaces. These facilities tend to have higher mortality rates than conventional farming due to hen-on-hen violence and disease spread.
Free-Range: Hens have access to the outdoors, can forage, and they are fed grains. However, this means the chickens have outdoor space available, but do not necessarily roam free or are outside all the time. Studies have shown hens who have access to more sunlight have 4 times the amount of vitamin D in their eggs compared to conventional eggs.
Pasture–Raised: Hens always have access to the outdoors, with a diet of corn feed, worms, insects, and grass. Studies have shown that pasture-raised hens have 2 times the omega-3 fatty acids, three times the vitamin E, and seven times the amount of beta carotene in their eggs compared to conventional eggs.
Diet, Processing, & Marketing
Vegetarian-Fed: Hens eat a vegetarian diet, free from meat or fish by-products in their feed, it is primarily comprised of corn and soybean fortified with amino acids. They are kept in cages or indoors, so they do not peck any grubs or worms.
Organic: Hens are fed organic feed, and are not treated with hormones. They are normally free-range or cage-free.
Omega- 3 Enriched: Hens are fed a high omega-3-enriched diet with the inclusion of flaxseed. Studies have shown there are five times more essential omega-3 fatty acids in enriched eggs compared to conventional eggs. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and essential in human diets.
Pasteurized: Eggs are heated to 140 degrees Fahrenheit for three and a half minutes to destroy pathogens. Typically, pasteurized eggs are recommended for young children, elderly, and people with weakened immune systems to reduce the risk of salmonella.
Local: They must come from a flock located less than four hundred miles from the processing facility or within the same state.
Brown: Eggs have a brown shell color and hens have red feathers and ear lobes. Brown eggs are more expensive at the supermarket because the hens that lay them usually eat more, which means the hens cost more to keep per egg. There is not a significant difference in nutrition between white and brown eggs.
Certified Humane/Animal Welfare Approved: “Humane” treatment tends to be subjective, but is defined by one of several 3rd party organizations that audit egg farms and certify them according to their own guidelines.
Grade of Eggs
AA: Eggs are clean and unbroken, yolk is slightly defined, the egg white is clear and thick, and the air cell is no more than 1/8 inch. Fun Fact: The smaller the air cell, the fresher the egg.
A: Eggs are clean and unbroken, yolk outline is more defined, the egg white is clear and reasonably thick, and the air cell is 1/8th to 3/16th thick.
B: Eggs are clean or slightly stained with an abnormal shape, the yolk outline is clearly defined, the egg white may contain blood spots and is thin and watery, and the air cell is larger than 3/16th.
“Farm Fresh”: This phrase does not mean the eggs have reached the grocery store or distributor within any specified amount of time, but it does give a happy picture to consumers of a farmer hand-harvesting eggs and rushing them straight to your local store.
“All Natural”: The Humane Society of the United States has no defined meaning for the “All Natural” qualification, and could be referring to any number of aspects of egg farming, such as the feed ingredients, the birds, or the eggs.
“No Hormones”: It is currently illegal to give hormones to commercial poultry in the US, so this label is redundant, but true for all eggs found in grocery stores
“No Antibiotics”: Another redundant term, antibiotics are rarely used in commercial egg production unless birds are actively fighting an infection.
Many studies have shown that pasture-raised eggs are the healthiest eggs you can buy, and the healthier the chicken, the healthier the egg. Regardless of the style, eggs are a very nutritionally complete food and a healthy part of any diet. Eggs are a rich source of protein, vitamins, and nutrients like vitamin D that aids in bone health and the immune system, and choline that helps with metabolism and brain function. So, the next time you go to the supermarket and walk by the egg section, use this article as a quick guide for choosing the right eggs for you.