Do you fall into the camp that believes that brown eggs are healthier, taste better, and are more natural than their pale partners? Well, let's take a look at the humble egg today on Food Myth Friday!
What Makes a Brown Egg Brown?
Let's just start with a few quick facts on why there are a few colors of eggs in the first place! The color of an egg has everything to do with the breed of chicken and nothing to do with the way the chicken is raised. White Leghorn chickens lay white eggs, Rhode Island Reds lay brown, and Lushis lay a blue-green egg. Those are just one example of each type of chicken. There is more than one type of each colored egg layer.
Scientifically, there is a compound called protoporphyrin IX in the egg's shell that gives it the signature brown pigment. This pigment is made from heme, the same compound that gives blood its red color.
The blue-green colors in eggs are created by biliverdin, which is also created by heme. I know it just said it made the red color in blood, but this is the same pigment that gives some of your bruises that weird greenish-blue hue.
The diet of the hen, how it is housed, and stress levels may lead to the pigment being lighter or darker in each type of colored eggs.
In a scientific study, researchers tested the nutritional quality of storebought brown and white shelled eggs. Their findings? There is no significant difference in the nutritional value. This means that shell color has little to do with what's going on inside the shell.
There are nutritional differences in eggs between brands, but we'll cover that in a minute.
But, Brown Eggs Taste Better!
Now, you could be on to something here. However, probably not in the way you think you are. The majority of farm-fresh eggs, or backyard chicken eggs, are brown eggs. So, if you've nabbed some from your own chickens, the farmer's market, your neighbors, or your parents (in my case), then more than likely, they're brown.
Naturally, the eggs you get straight from the source are going to be much fresher when they hit your plate than the ones you got from your local grocery store. Commercial eggs have to go through processing, irradiation (sometimes), and shipping. While they're still pretty fresh, they're not quite as fresh. Therefore, the flavor might be slightly lacking.
The types of feed can change the flavor of the egg, as well as the cooking method. Some chickens are fed diets high in fish oils to increase the Omega-3 content in the egg. If you scramble the egg, then you're probably not going to be able to tell the difference in taste between any of the types of feed. However, you hard boil that bad boy? The chicken fed with fish oil will lay an egg with an "off" flavor or smell extra sulfuric.
How Many Labels Can You Even Have?
When it comes to the supermarket, marketing is king. Therefore, eggs are no longer just brown and white. They come labeled with all sorts of buzzwords, and some of them actually have an impact on the flavor and nutritional profile of your egg. Let's break it down!
Cage-Free: This one can be a little misleading. In most commercial operations, hens are kept in separate cages while they crank out eggs. All cage-free means that the hen is inside a larger laying house with little to no access to the outdoors. Most of the time, hens are crammed into capacity in these laying houses.
Free-Range: If you imagine chickens grazing across the range like a herd of bison, you may be reading into the range part a little too much. However, these hens have constant access to the outdoors. Eggs that are labeled free-range typically have a higher concentration of Vitamin D.
All Natural: How wonderful! A natural egg! Wait, how do you define natural? That it was expelled from a chicken butt? That's how it got here, but where did it get here? You can't fool me! You made that up! The term "natural" isn't regulated in the US because it can't be defined. This is fancy marketing trying to get you to pick that brand of eggs.
Organic: This means that hens are only fed organic, non-GMO feed. They are also required to have year-round access to the outdoors and can only be treated with antibiotics if medically necessary. Hormones are not allowed to be used in any laying hen in Europe or the US, organic or not.
Omega-3 Enriched: This is one to be on the lookout for. These hens have been fed with omega-3 fatty acids added to their feed. The eggs then become higher in heart-healthy omega-3s.
But Brown Eggs Cost More!
Huh. You're right! Brown eggs are usually more expensive than white eggs. Historically, breeds that lay brown eggs are larger chickens that did not produce as many eggs as their white counterparts. Therefore, brown eggs were more expensive to produce.
Fast forward to today, and brown eggs can be turned out just as economically as white eggs. Yet, their prices are still higher across the board. This remains the fact due to most "specialty" eggs being brown. You're paying for that "free-range" and "organic" tag on the carton.
At the end of the day, the color of the egg doesn't make any difference. Fry it, scramble it, boil it, or poach it! Eggs are a delicious and nutritious part of breakfast, lunch, and dinner! The fresher, the better, so make sure to check those sell-by dates on the carton?
WHAT!? You don't do that? What's the first thing you do when you buy a carton of milk? You check the expiration date. I'm continually shocked by the number of people that do not do the same to their eggs. Fresh eggs not only taste better, but they're actually easier to cook with if you're going for sunny side up or some other variation where the yolk and white need to stand up and hold up.
So, whatever your preference on eggs, just be aware of what actually makes a difference and what's just show!