Picking up a dozen eggs at the market used to be a simple matter, but not anymore. These days, you’ll find plenty of labels on eggs, intended to make you buy one particular product or another. Since the choices can be dizzying and unclear, it can be difficult to know what is best for you and your family. To help you sort things out, here are some terms and information about what each means – or doesn’t mean. Just keep these key things in mind:
The hens are not caged, have open space, and has easy access to the outdoors, where they are able to fly to nests and perches and to forage for food.
Cage Free/Free Roaming
The hens are not caged, but they may be crowded, restricted to indoor spaces and floors. They have access to food and water but are not necessarily allowed outdoors.
This is not an official label so there is no regulation on the use of this term. It is supposed to mean that the hens spend most of their lives outdoors, with frequent changes of pasture area in which to forage, and access to a barn.
Natural or Naturally Raised
This label has no meaning other than what egg producers want it to mean.
Marketing jargon that means nothing.
Subject to U.S.D.A. certification, organic eggs must live under cage free/free roaming conditions. They are not free range, necessarily, but they can be. They are fed only organic feed. The hens have not been given antibiotics and their feed is free of pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals.
All eggs sold in United States markets are free of antibiotics and residue from antibiotics. But only eggs from hens that have not been treated with antibiotics can be labeled antibiotic-free.
This terminology is meaningless because the FDA does not allow any hormone products in egg production. Every egg should already be hormone-free.
Eggs laid by hens who have been fed a special diet to increase certain nutrients like vitamin E, omega 3 fatty acids, or lutein are labeled nutrient enhanced.
Hens that produce omega-3 enhanced eggs are fed a special vegetarian diet that consists of canola, flaxseed, and linseed—all rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids. The result is that they produce eggs with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than other types of eggs.
However, they are not inspected by the FDA for their omega-3 content unless there is a complaint.
These eggs guarantee that the hens are only fed a vegetarian diet—free from meat or fish by-products. The hens are kept in cages and therefore cannot peck any grubs or worms.
These eggs are heated just enough to destroy bacteria but not hot enough to cook them. They are increasingly found in supermarkets and are a good choice for people who are susceptible to infection or who like their eggs under-cooked.
Information About Eggs:
White eggs simply come from white-feathered chickens, and brown eggs come from red- and brown-feathered chickens. Taste and nutrition doesn’t differ between the two colors of eggs.
Yolk color depends on the diet of the hens. Chickens that are fed grains and grasses full of carotenoids have more vibrantly yellow yolks, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to a more nutritious yolk.
Eggs can be stored in the refrigerator without any loss of quality for at least 4 weeks past the sell-by date stamped on the carton.
As an egg ages, the white becomes thinner, the yolk becomes flatter, and the yolk membrane becomes weaker, making it more likely to break. These changes don’t affect the egg nutritionally or functionally, but the freshness of an egg does affect its appearance.
What makes for a cloudy or clear egg white? It’s the age of the egg. Older eggs have clear whites, while fresh eggs can have a milky, opaque look.
To test the freshness of eggs, submerge them in a deep bowl or pot of cold water. The freshest eggs lie flat on their sides. As they age, air slowly enters the shell and they become more buoyant. Older eggs begin to tilt up and then stand upright on the bottom, but are perfectly usable. Floating eggs should be discarded.
Eggs are graded based on the appearance of the shell and quality of the yolk and whites inside: Grade AA eggs have clean, uniform-colored shells and strong whites. Grade A eggs, the most common kind sold in stores, have whites that are a little runnier, and Grade B eggs may have some discoloration in their shells.
Jumbo, extra-large, large, medium, small, and pee-wee eggs generally have about a quarter of an ounce difference between them. When baking, large is recommended if recipe instructions don’t specify size.
Deciphering Hard-Cooked vs. Raw
To tell if an egg is raw or hard-cooked, spin it! If the egg spins easily, it is hard-cooked but if it wobbles, it is raw.
If an egg is accidentally dropped on the floor, sprinkle it heavily with salt for easy clean up.
Cutting Through the Jargon
Keep in mind that all whole eggs are considered to be all-natural, hormone-free, gluten-free, carbohydrate-free, trans fat-free, a good source of Vitamin D, and a good source of protein. You may see these words on the carton, but they do not indicate better quality than other eggs.