Understanding Egg Types

If you find choosing among the different egg types bewildering, then you are not alone. Lots of consumers are asking which kinds of eggs are the best in value and nutrition. How can you tell which types are best? The following myths and facts can help you decide.

Myth: Brown Eggs Are More Nutritious

Fact: If you pay more for brown eggs only because you think white eggs are less nutritious, then feel free to switch to white. The color of an egg can only tell you the breed of the chicken that laid it. Experts say that there is no difference in taste, although you may know some consumers who claim they can taste the difference, and say that brown eggs taste better.

Myth: Free-Range Eggs Are Better

Fact: “Free-range” suggests a beautiful vision of chickens allowed to roam all over the farm, breathing in fresh air. In the United States, the term free-range has no official meaning. Farmers can sell eggs labeled as free-range even though the chickens did not go outside for long or at all. The USDA does not specify a specific time period for the hens to be outside to qualify. Producers must demonstrate that the hens are merely allowed access to the outdoors. A farmer might simply open a door for a while yet the hens do not necessarily go outside.

The irony is that, when chickens are out of doors, they may pick up more environmental contaminants than chickens confined to cages. A study from Belgium discovered that the eggs of free-range chickens had a higher risk of being contaminated with PCBs than caged chickens. PCBs refer to polychlorinated biphenyls, which are pollutants. A similar study from Taiwan said that eggs produced by chickens allowed to roam may be six times more harmful than eggs from caged chickens.

Myth: Eggs Marked “Organic” Are the Safest

Fact: Organic eggs cost more, so you may be surprised that the hormone-free claim is not worth the extra money. The truth is that the USDA does not allow any eggs to have hormones, so there is no “hormone-free” advantage to organic eggs. Eggs properly labeled organic, though, do come from farms that meet specific requirements. The chicken is only fed organic feed. The feed must not have pesticides, chemical fertilizers or animal byproducts.

How to Choose

What about eggs that are described as “pasture-raised?” The hens are in pastures but they are confined to enclosed pens that are moved around the pastures. One advantage is that the hens can eat a variety of food. Some egg experts claim that these chickens produce eggs with more nutrients than eggs from caged chickens. As for “cage-free” eggs, there is no real legal definition to guarantee anything significant. Cage-free hens may live in flocks of thousands and never go outside. The hens are simply able to walk around the barn and extend their wings but the area is still crowded.

All eggs may not be created equal, but when they reach the table, one type is as good as the other, for nutrition and safety. Just be sure to practice good hygiene at home for storing, handling and cooking eggs.  


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