Sunday, February 3, 2013

Egg Confusion

 Egg confusion.

Eggs. I love eggs. "In a shell" (ha ha), they are a great, natural, nutritious, food. It is also a great way for folks who choose not to eat meat to get protein.

In my quest to live healthier, greener and more self-sustaining, I am lucky to have my own chickens (sans rooster - all girls here!) and to know exactly what is and what is not going into my eggs. An even better feeling is to know that the hens are kept happy and humanely. The chickens also make great, inexpensive, and highly entertaining pets!

I have learned a lot in the short time I have had birds. One of the most eye-opening things I have learned is about egg labeling and nutrition.
Egg labeling can be confusing. Free Range, Organic, Pastured ... which is best? Omega 3, Brown vs White ... which is healthiest?  Large, AA ... What does it all mean?

Here is the break-down from the USDA (United Stated Department of Agriculture) and the American Egg Board and others.

  First lets' look at the basics of size and quality



 I wish I got those grades...
USDA Grade AA and USDA Grade A shields
source USDA

Eggs you find in the store come with one of 3 different grades:
U.S. Grade AA, A, and B.
These grades are basically given based on 2 factors:
1 - the interior quality of the egg judged by candling prior to packaging
2-  the condition of the egg shell prior to packaging
Keep in mind that this may or may not be the condition in which they are in at the time you purchase or consume them.

U.S. Grade AA
Whites are thick and firm; yolks that are high, round, and practically free from defects.
Shells are clean & unbroken.

U.S. Grade A
Whites are "reasonably" firm.
This is the quality most often sold in stores.

U.S. Grade B
Whites may be thinner, yolks may be wider and flatter than eggs of higher grades.
Shells unbroken, but may have slight stains.
This quality is usually used to make liquid, frozen, and dried egg products.


... doesn't matter.

Size is just the minimum required net weight per dozen eggs.
It does not refer to size or shape of the individual eggs.
It is the total weight of the carton that puts them in one of the following classes:

Size or Weight Class Minimum net weight per dozen
Jumbo 30 ounces
Extra Large 27 ounces
Large 24 ounces
Medium 21 ounces
Small 18 ounces
Peewee 15 ounces
Chart from USDA

Now that the easy part is over, on to the nitty gritty.


Eggs come in a variety of colors.  Here is the truth only genetics can determine the color of egg. You can't tell by feather color or ear lobe color or if their mom laid a certain color. Some eggs may have an auburn tint and others can even be shades of green, blue or pink! Very Cool.

I have 5 hens and can tell who laid what egg by the color. But, there have even been time where a hen has "run out of toner" and lays a light color, or spotted egg.
I have seen 3 types of coloring.
1. White Shell - these are white in and out.
2. White shell "painted" - these are a white shell with pigment applied to the exterior.
3. Tinted Shell - this is when the shell itself contains pigment as with Nugget's Blue hued egg. when cracked open, you can also see blue on the inside of the eggshell and throughout the shell.

FACT: There is no difference in flavor, quality, or nutrition as a result of the color of the shell. No, really, I am not kidding. It doesn't matter.

Here is what does matter...


OK kiddos, that means there is a rooster involved. If you need more explanation than that, ask your parents. The egg could be fertilized.
NO, the embryo won't develop into a chick unless the exact temperature, time and humidity have been applied.
NO, there is no difference in nutrition in fertilized vs. unfertilized eggs.
Commercial eggs are not fertile unless so labeled.


Regular 'Ole Eggs

'Y know... the ones in the store that are the cheapest. No fancy labels. Just plain old eggs. These come from large "factory farms". The hens are called "battery hens" and are "paked" several per cage; cage on top of cage, filling large warehouse buildings. They live this way from egg-laying age till death. I could go on about the miserable conditions but won't. You can learn more from the Humane Society at the following link:
Anyway... that is where the majority of commercial eggs come from. This is also why they are cheapest - "stack 'em deep -n- sell 'em cheap". Although, some argument can be made for the control aspect of this style. It is possible to maintain climate, air quality, feed, medications and water at optimal levels. Predators are not an issue.

FREE RANGE, Free Roaming and Cage-Free

Free-range. This label indicates that the flock was provided shelter in a building, room, or area with unlimited access to food, fresh water, and continuous access to the outdoors during their production cycle. The outdoor area may or may not be fenced and/or covered with netting-like material. This label is regulated by the USDA.
The outdoors area can be concrete and fenced. This label does not mean the hens have pasture or adequate space.
 "The insects and other organic matter in the diet of free-range hens may result in such a very small increase in egg protein content that it’s considered insignificant. The nutrient content of eggs from the same breed of hen fed the same diet is not affected by whether hens are raised free-range or in floor or cage operations." (

Cage free

Eggs laid by hens at indoor floor operations, sometimes called free-roaming hens. The hens may roam in a building, room or open area, usually in a barn or poultry house, and have unlimited access to food and water.
This label does not mean the hens get adequate space.

Hormone-Free Eggs

All eggs are hormone free. In the U.S., by federal law, neither laying hens nor any other type of poultry are fed hormones. (

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and seafood are considered essential components of the diet because your body can’t make them from the foods you eat. Regular eggs also contain omega-3s, on average about 30 mg per egg. Omega-3-enhanced eggs provide more, from 100 to over 600 mg per egg. (

Organic Eggs

Eggs produced according to national USDA organic standards related to methods, practices and substances used in producing and handling crops, livestock and processed agricultural products.
This is all extremely complicated and comes in varying levels.
Among other requirements, organic eggs are produced by hens fed rations having ingredients that were grown without most conventional pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or commercial fertilizers. Due to higher production costs and lower volume per farm, organic eggs are more expensive than eggs from hens fed conventional feed. The nutrient content of eggs is not affected by whether or not the ration is organic.


A difference between free-range and pasture raised is that the birds are allowed access to pasture, not just a generic "outdoor" terminology of free range.
Usually, eggs marketed as pasture raised or pastured should also come with a humane certification.
At the time of writing this post, I was unable to find US regulations on this category. There might be, I just cant find it.

And for those who go unconventional...

Backyard Chickens allowed to "graze"

Researchers from Pen State found that pastured birds produced eggs that contained about three times more omega-3 fat in their eggs than did birds raised on an industrial diet. They also had more vitamins A and E. (

 My fresh eggs have a super thick shell (from the "recycled" calcium supplement), a cloudy and thick egg white, a thick and dark yolk & virtually no air sac. This means they are fresh!

So, what to I do with all these fresh, healthy eggs from my happy birdies?
Breakfast sandwiches, scrambles, fritatas and quiches; deviled eggs, egg salad breakfast pizza; sauces and dressings, baked goods and deserts, homemade pastas and noodles. You can even make hair and skin treatments - but, that is not my specialty.
You can visit my blog for some of my recipes and to learn more about my flock.
My Flock:

If you don't or can't raise your own birds, you can ask around for a local supplier or neighbor or local farmers market (be sure they are treating their animals humanely).
Next best is to look for pasture raised and certified humane at your local store.
Sometimes, people get a sticker shock to see a dozen eggs for around $8.
But, really, think about it! that's only about 65 cents an egg! Still VERY cheap considering the use and mostly, how the animals get to live!!!
People spend $8 on a small coffee !!! I think THAT is ridiculous!!!
So, a 65 cent highly nutritious humanely sourced breakfast, or an 8 dollar flavored water?

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