Considering how many eggs we blow through over here, you would think I knew a thing or two about how to buy them and what to look for. Sadly, you would be mistaken. When I push my grocery cart up to the refrigerated egg case, my eyes begin to glaze over. I like them big, so beyond choosing a carton labeled “extra large” I just make sure they are all intact and (mostly) ignore the remaining labels. Certified humane. Vegetarian. Omega-3. Free range. Cage free. Say what?
Let me back up a second and point out that I said “grocery store.” This is where I typically buy my eggs. I am well aware that eggs are sold at the farmers’ market, but I have never bought them there. They’re much more expensive than the grocery variety and when you buy as many as I do, that adds up pretty quickly. But my mind was changed recently when I tried farm fresh eggs for the first time. I have been receiving baskets of local farm produce from From the Farmer (remember them? I wrote about this service back in June) and in addition to fresh bread, they have added the option of fresh eggs. So I decided to try them out, but before I did I asked a few questions about what one should be looking for and thinking about when buying eggs. Dalila Boclin at From the Farmer supplied me with the following wisdom.
WG: What should I look for when buying eggs? Which of the many, many labels should I pay attention to?
Dalila Boclin, From the Farmer (FTF): So here are what we would say are the best labels to check for when selecting eggs:
Knowing the source is the most important information you can glean from egg packaging. When you know your farmer, you can ask questions directly about how the hens were raised. Of course, the farmer isn’t standing behind the shelves of the refrigerated section. Here are a few things to know if you’re buying labeled cartons at the grocery.
Pastured eggs come from hens that were raised out in the open field. Sure, they spend time in the hen house (particularly at night) but during the day they are kept contained by a mobile fence and left to peck and be merry in the pasture. The land they graze on rotates about every two weeks. This is really the best way not only for us, but for the environment, too, as the chickens will fertilize the pasture and also peck away at any bugs and unwanted pests, greatly relieving the need for pesticides and artificial fertilizers. Pastured is not a USDA regulated term, rather something that you can ask a farmer about.
Free-range is the USDA-regulated label for the concept of ‘free to roam’ within the henhouse. It doesn’t necessarily require that they be raised or have extensive access to the outdoors. In our opinion, pastured eggs from a good source are freshest and therefore taste best. A firm, tall yolk that’s bright and tasty is worth the extra effort.
Organic eggs come from hens that have been fed organic feed and haven’t been treated with antibiotics.
Omega-3 eggs refer to the feed, which has been supplemented with sources of omega-3, like fish and flax.
100% Vegetarian feed doesn’t make true sense because chickens aren’t natural vegetarians (they eat bugs and worms). However, it does control against feeding layers animal byproducts like fish or scraps from animal processing.
Of course, we believe it’s best to go directly to the source. If you can make it to the farmers market, pop by and shake the hand of the farmer and ask how things are done instead of relying on confusing buzz-words. Of course if that sounds like way too much work – and you live in the DC area! – you can always have your eggs delivered by From the Farmer (go to the bottom of this post for a special promo code for WG readers). We can verify that your eggs came from a great source.
WG: What is the difference between brown eggs and white ones, and what makes them that way? Are there any nutritional differences?
FTF: Brown hens lay brown eggs. White hens lay white eggs. Blue hens lay blue eggs. Kidding! There is a special South American breed of chicken called Aruacana and they are responsible for those blue eggs. There is no nutritional difference (or much flavor difference) based on the color of the outer shell.
WG: Fascinating. My friend Carrie Anne just told me that you can tell what color a chicken’s eggs will be by smoothing the feathers away from the ear and taking a look inside. Whatever color is inside the ear is the color of the eggs they lay! Her chickens lay blue eggs and predictably, their inner ears are blue.
Moving right along…how can I tell if my eggs are fresh?
FTF: There are a couple quick ways to do this.
1. The Float Test – This is a quick and easy test. Place an egg in a bowl of water. If the egg lays flat (like the ones above), it’s super fresh, fry it up! If it’s pointing up (like the one below), it’s still really fresh, just consume or hard boil sooner rather than later. If the egg floats, it’s no good and should be discarded / composted.
2. The Crack Test – Grab a plate. Crack your egg onto the plate and note the position of the yolk. If it’s in the center of the white and standing tall and firm, you have a beauty of an egg; it’s fresh. If the yolk is off to the side, has no profile, separates easily from the white and smells funny, discard.
WG: How is the size of the egg determined?
FTF: Chickens of different ages and sizes lay different sized eggs. Eggs farmers will keep a flock of different ages. A ‘teenage chick’ is called a poulet. Their eggs are smaller than an adult hen’s eggs as they have only started laying. Some breeds of chicken will also have larger eggs.
WG: How long do eggs keep in the fridge?
FTF: Fresh eggs will last in the fridge for 6 weeks. But here is something interesting you may not know. Have you ever walked around a grocery store in Europe and wondered why the eggs aren’t refrigerated? It has to do with washing. When a hen lays an egg, there’s a coating around the egg that acts like a shield between the porous shell and the interior.
Because of our country’s great admiration for sanitation and deep fear of salmonella, our eggs are mechanically washed with hot water and detergent before being packaged – a process that removes the protective coating from the egg making it vulnerable to pathogens that can find their way through the porous shell. By keeping washed eggs in the fridge, a more stable environment, they last longer and are safer to consume.
WG: Thanks so much, Dalila.
Can you tell which egg above is fresher? I bet you can. I wondered if there would be a noticeable difference in taste. The answer is yes. The fresher egg is a little fluffier, brighter tasting and the yolk is, for the lack of a better descriptor, yolkier. Try it for yourself and let me know what you think.
As I mentioned earlier, if you live in the DC area, you can give From the Farmer a try using the promo code “WEEKLYGREENS14.” You will receive 25% off your first three orders.
Before I egg-xit (sorry, irresistible), a little more food for thought.
2. Favorite. Frittata. Ever.
5. Looks like a muffin, tastes like an omelet.
6. Breakfast Club Redux – check out tips #4 and 5.