There’s more to good eggs than you think. We cut through all the popular marketing terms and help you better understand what makes an egg good and healthy.
I think eggs get a bad rap sometimes. Indeed they are high in cholesterol, but they are packed with a long list of beneficial vitamins and protein that you need in your diet. Call us crazy, but we’re more concerned with the effects of processed food than cholesterol from “real” food. Getting all the good nutrients an egg has to offer means that we need to find the best possible source. If you’re an egg eater, we have a few tips for finding great eggs to incorporate into your menu.
How chickens should live
You see the egg cartons at the grocery store boasting things like, “free range,” or “cage free.” This is the optimal environment for chickens – running around farmland (or a designated area), free to roam, peck, eat, get fresh air, and lots of sunlight. Many of you have seen horrifying images of chickens crammed into cages or barns trampling all over each other (i.e. Food, Inc.). Talk about poor work conditions. These poor, tired, mistreated hens inevitably produce some sorry eggs. It’s not their fault.
Matt and I don’t purchase eggs from the store anymore because we prefer to get as close to our food source as possible. This means finding a local farmer who is happy to let us see the hens who are laying our eggs. A farmer shouldn’t be bashful about showing you his/her chickens, and you shouldn’t be bashful about asking to see them. This is your segue to asking about the animals’ diet.
What chickens should eat
Equally important to how a chicken lives is what the chicken eats. A few years ago Matt went door-knocking around our area. Anyone who had a sign reading, “Eggs for Sale” got a visit from brave Mr. Matt. I think many of the farmers were surprised at the questions Matt fired at them, and Matt was equally surprised at some of their answers. He mainly wanted to find out what farmers were feeding their chickens. Some farmers responded with pride, revealing that their chickens were eating a diet of “all corn,” “soybeans,” and/or “grain.” NOT the answers Matt was looking for. We have talked to farmers who admit it’s near impossible to find chicken-feed with non-GMO corn, soybeans, or grain. Chickens fed GMO feed will pass what they eat to their eggs – after all, they are what they eat.
We understand that in cold-weather climates, farmers have to supplement a chicken’s diet with some type of chicken feed. However, the majority of what they eat should always be grass, plants, worms, bugs, and dirt. Basically, anything they can find as they peck around outdoors. Some farmers even supplement with fruit and vegetable scraps. Just as humans are urged to eat a balanced diet that incorporates different food groups, a great egg comes from a hen eating a diet rich in variety. Matt finally found a farmer whose chickens were on a sensible, varied diet, and he won our dedicated business.
It’s easy to understand how taste and nutrient value of eggs are affected by the chicken’s diet. This is a really good reason to do your research and find a local farmer who knows grass and bugs are actually a good thing when it comes to a chicken’s diet.
You may have overlooked this when buying eggs in the past, but it’s time to start paying attention. Don’t feel bad if this is news to you, agribusiness works hard to disconnect you from your food source. It’s time to change, it’s time to get back in touch.
How eggs should look
You know the eggs at the store that are all the same size, shape, and color? I don’t consider this a good thing. At first, farm fresh eggs grossed me out a little. They are usually different sizes, shapes, and a few different colors. Sometimes there may be a little gunk or remnants of feathers stuck to them. Now I know this is something to be appreciated. It means the farmer has nothing to hide and is more concerned with quality than appearance.
You may have noticed that there can be variation in the color of an egg’s yolk. If a yolk is a deep orange, this is a good indicator that it came from a healthy hen. Healthy, free-range hens typically have a more diverse diet, and an opportunity to eat pigmented foods. The pigment is then transferred to the yolk.
Steer clear of yolks that are a dull yellow or even grayish in color. It most likely came from a hen raised in a tiny cage – stuffed alongside several others – fed a poor diet.
How to tell if eggs are old
When you’re buying fresh eggs from a farmer, you typically won’t see an expiration date printed on the carton. Matt and I learned a few tricks to determine approximately how old an egg is. These tricks are especially useful if purchasing eggs from the store since they’re most likely older than a farm-direct egg.
Gently place your egg in a cold bowl of water. If your egg:
- sinks to the bottom and lies on its side, it is very fresh, just a few days old.
- sinks to the bottom but one end tilts up on an angle, it’s about 1 week old.
- sinks to the bottom and stands up on end, it’s about 2 weeks old.
- floats to the top, it’s an old egg, throw it out.
Keep your eyes peeled
Most farmers selling eggs will only have a small sign to advertise, making them a little difficult to find. On a lazy Sunday afternoon, go for a country drive and see if you can spot a few. Have your list of questions ready and only buy from farmers giving the answers you’re looking for. Buying locally will ensure a better price, and you’ll have the advantage of being more informed about where your food is coming from. If you’re not into Sunday drives, ask around at work for any leads on fresh eggs, or check Craigslist. I have discovered coworkers selling eggs at all of my jobs in the last 10 years! And when we moved to a new city we found several folks selling quality eggs on Craigslist.
If you live in a big city where it’s difficult to find a farm or farmer, all hope for good farm-fresh eggs is not lost. Big cities usually have a better selection of health food stores where local eggs are sometimes sold (i.e. food co-ops). Lift the lid and look for the size, shape, and color variety that distinguishes them from others.
We love our eggs, but we love our egg farmers even more. We have built great relationships with people we purchase eggs from and learned so much about local food in the process. We challenge you to get out and put a little work into finding good food sources!