(Click this picture for Jumbo eggs!)
I've become pretty knowledgeable about eggs--wow, there is a lot of misunderstanding about them out there! Here are some facts to set the story straight. Please understand this is the tip of the iceberg!
I've grouped the information into three categories below:
Cooking, Storing & Nutrition
- The color of the shell has no affect on the contents--the nutrition inside is the same no matter if the eggshell is white, brown, green, blue or speckled.
- Eggs from chickens allowed outside to eat bugs and bask in the sun have more vitamins and less cholesterol than supermarket eggs according to Mother Earth News:
- 1/3 less cholesterol (143mg-47% RDA vs 215mg-71% RDA)
- 1/4 less saturated fat (1.1g-6% RDA vs 1.5g-8% RDA)
- 2/3 more vitamin A (10% RDA vs 6% RDA)
- 4-6 times more Vitamin D
- 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids (raises HDL--good cholesterol)
- 3 times more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta carotene
- Cholesterol in eggs is in the yolks. The typical eggs contains about 215mg of cholesterol, and the recommended daily limit is 300mg. Studies have suggested that for dietary cholesterol to raise cholesterol levels in humans, saturated fat needs to accompany it. So skip the bacon or consider substituting some extra egg whites for yolks. Probably better to skip the saturated fat because most of the vitamins in eggs are in the yolks!
Here is an article I found informative on this subject:
- Approximate calories in eggs by size:
- 54 - Small
- 63 - Medium
- 72 - Large
- 81 - Extra Large
- 90 - Jumbo
- How do you know if an egg is fresh? Fill a bowl with water and drop the egg gently in. If it sinks, it's fresh. If one end rises but the egg stays on the bottom of the bowl, it's a little old, but still okay. If the egg floats or smells bad, toss it.
- Eggs will keep longer if you can eliminate as much air getting to the shells as possible. Buy eggs in cartons without holes. Wrap the carton with plastic wrap. Or just eat them up--Yum!
- It's hard to find really fresh eggs from a store. Commercial egg producers have wonderful air-tight storage facilities, and some eggs you buy can be a month or more old. Not to worry, they are still just fine because they were stored properly.
To help you, commercial eggs are graded. Grade AA is the freshest. Grade A a bit older. Grade B eggs have slight imperfections in the shell or contents. Grade B is used in the food industry so you probably won't see them at the store.
- Hard Boiling and Peeling - Very fresh eggs don't peel very well after hard cooking--bits of egg white stick to the shell. As an egg ages, air penetrates the shell and loosens the protective membrane just beneath the shell. No method of cooking will improve this. I tell folks who buy my eggs to wait 2 weeks from the 'packed on' date I stamp on the carton. Keep them in the fridge and wait.
The most common time you might find very fresh eggs from the grocery store is around Easter when demand for eggs goes up.
Here's my method of hard boiling eggs. Place cold eggs in a kettle with enough cold tap water to cover the eggs at least 1/2 inch. Put the kettle on high heat and bring to a rolling boil. Immegiately take the kettle off the heat, cover, and let stand for 12 minutes (XL eggs)--10 minutes works for most Large or Medium size eggs.
- Scrambled eggs. The flavor will be best if you add any salt you like before the eggs are cooked. I learned this from Cook's Illustrated magazine--they did a taste test.
Egg Labeling (updated 1/2014)
Don't believe everything you read on an egg carton. Some claims mean something, while others don't. In the November 2010 issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter, they did the research about labeling and offer the following.
Certified Claims - verified or certified by the respective agency.
USDA Organic Certification - Hens must be uncaged inside barns or warehouses, and must have outdoor access (how much isn't specified). Hens must be fed an organic, all vegetarian diet free from antibiotics and pesticides. Beak cutting (to prevent pecking) is permitted. Hens cannot have received any antibiotics after they are 3 days old.
American Humane Certified - Hens can be confined in cages or can be cage-free. Beak cutting is permitted.
Animal Welfare Approved - Hens are raised by independent family farmers in flocks of no more than 500 birds that spend their adult lives outside. Beak cutting is prohibited. Birds are not fed any animal byproducts (these eggs are available at some farmers markets and restaurants.)
Certified Humane - Hens must be uncaged inside barns or warehouses, but may be kept indoors at all times. Beak cutting is allowed. in 2014 additional designations for "Free Range" and "Pasture Raised" were established:
The "Certified Humane" label for Free Range hens means they must have at least 6 hours a day outside and a minimum of 2 square feet per bird out there.
The "Certified Humane" label for Pasture Raised or Pastured hens means the birds must have access to outdoors all day with a minimum of 108 square feet per bird. Pastures must be rotated as they are eaten down. Prices for these eggs will be the highest due to the land needed to support these flocks.
United Egg Producers Certified - Meets minimum voluntary industry standards, which, according to the Humane Society, "permit routine cruel and inhumane factory farm practices."
Uncertified Claims - as honest as the companies that make them. The USDA has published the following "Trade Descriptions." Although they are voluntary, many poultry farms conform.
- Raised without Antibiotics - The hens were not fed antibiotics at any time. If a hen was sick and was given antibiotics, its eggs cannot make this claim. The routine use of antibiotics in hens is illegal.
- Cage Free - This simply means the hen is not living her entire life in a tiny cage cramped with other hens. They usually have 2-3 times the space of a caged hen. She may still never see the light of day as there are no regulations governing care.
- Free Range or Free Roaming - Hens are supposed to have access to the outdoors. Again, no regulation as to how much or what kind.
- Labels that include "Certified Humane" are strictly regulated and actually mean something. See above.
- Pasture Raised or Pastured - USDA Trade Description says "birds raised outdoors using movable enclosures located on grass and fed an organic diet, no antibiotics or hormones." Basically, they must have some time outside foraging for vegetation and bugs. Eggs from pasture raised hens will have less cholesterol, more Omega-3 fat and more of other nutrients.
- Labels that include "Certified Humane" are strictly regulated and actually mean something. See above.
- Omega-3 - Don't pay extra for Omega-3 eggs--eat some salmon instead. The FDA has banned all Omega-3 claims on eggs, but that hasn't stopped producers from making the claims.
Feeding the hens flax seed increases the amount of Omega-3 fat in the yolks of the eggs. However, this Omega-3 fat is ALA, an Omega-3 fat that most of us get enough of anyway. AND ALA doesn't protect the heart as much as DHA and EPA Omega-3 fats do.
A further note on Omega-3 fats. A few companies feed their hens fishmeal or algae, which can get the DHA up to about 100 mg per yolk. Flaxseed can easily boost the ALA to 350 mg. So if a carton boasts that its eggs have 300 mg or more of Omega-3s, you can assume most of it is ALA rather that the more desirable DHA or EPA.
Claims that mean nothing - you can safely ignore these
- Hormone Free - It's illegal for egg producers to feed hormones to their hens.
- Natural - It can mean anything.
The Chicken and the Egg
- Chicken egg shells start with 2 basic colors--white and blue. Depending on the genes of the hen, a color coating may be added to the outside of the egg shell as it passes through the hen's reproductive tract. The color genes vary usually by breed and sometimes within breed.
The coating color is various shades of brown. Brown applied to the white egg makes a brown egg. Brown applied to a blue egg makes it green. The inside of the shell will still be either white or blue.
- When will they begin laying? Chickens are light sensitive. The longer the days (summer) the more eggs. This also affects when a chicken begins laying. Chicks started in winter (days are lengthening) will lay sooner than chicks adopted later in the year. The breed has something to do with it also and individual hens are all different. Here are some examples from my experience ("lights" indicates we simulated daylight to boost them to lay sooner):
- I've had questions about coloring eggs (like for Easter) with natural ingredients. The following is reprinted from Eating Well magazine--one of my favories. Note: these would look the most like the sample if you use white eggs to start with. Directions follow.
||Blue - Red Cabbage
||1/4 head of cabbage cut into two chunks
||Violet - Beet
||1 large red beet cut into chunks
||Khaki Green - Red Onion Skin
||Outer loose skin from 8 red onions
||Orange - Yellow Onion Skin
||Outer loose skin from 8 yellow onions
||Yellow - Turmeric
||1 Tablespoon ground turmeric
Directions: Pour 2 cups boiling water over each natural dye. Let steep for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours to extract color. Strain (except for turmeric). Add 2 Tablespoons distilled white vinegar to each color. Add up to 4 eggs to each color. Refrigerate eggs in the dyes for at least 4 hours or up to 1 day (24 hours max). Remove eggs with slotted spoon and let dry. Refrigerate eggs up to a week.
- I heard a gal on a morning news show say brown eggs come from chickens with brown feathers and white eggs from white feathered chickens. Well, since most commercial producers of white eggs keep Leghorns (which are white) and producers of brown eggs keep Rhode Island Reds or Red Sex Links (brown feathers), I guess there is some logic in that statement.
But it's really breed or ear lobe dependent. Chickens with red ear lobes lay brown or tinted eggs and chickens with white ear lobes lay white eggs. There are a few exceptions so when in doubt, check the facts about the breed for egg color.
- A hen doesn't need a rooster in order to lay eggs. Just think of it as ovulating for a human--eggs are produced whether there is a man around or not. There will be no chicks hatching from eggs with no rooster in the yard. The number of eggs the hen lays is the same either way.
- Hens lay best when days are long. To be at full production they need a minimum of 15 hours of light. This can be natural or artificial. When light drops below this level in winter, the birds aged 18 months or more are triggered to molt (shed old feathers and grow new), a process where egg laying ceases. Even if they don't molt during short days of winter, production drops dramatically in most breeds as they 'rest'.
- A hen's first eggs start out quite small and about 3 days apart--thank goodness for the hen! Although each hen may vary at little, after a month or so of laying, she will lay an egg about every 25 hours. Since ovulation slows at night, the result is an egg every day or every other day. The second year, production drops slightly and does so every year after that. The largest eggs will be laid beginning in year 2.
- Young hens will occasionally lay eggs with 2 (or sometimes more) yolks or sometimes no yolk at all. Her reproductive tract is kind of out of whack at the beginning. This usually settles down after a few months of laying.
A more disturbing occurrence in young hens is an egg with no shell. This is another problem that resolves after a few months of laying. I have found that feeding them nothing but layer food during their early days of laying cuts down on shell-less eggs. No treats (like scratch grain) till they pass this period.
- A chicken can live about 12 years. Most commercial egg producers dispose of hens during their first molt at 18 months of age. There is little they can do with a chicken that isn't laying for 2 to 4 months.
- A hen stands to lay an egg. She starts out in the nest sitting down and typically sits down again after the act is completed.
- Hatching fertilized eggs. I was so astonished to learn that a fertilized egg can be laid and it won't start incubating until the hen begins sitting on it day and night. 86 degrees is the magic number plus the moisture from her body to trigger incubation. She doesn't usually do this until she gets a nest full of eggs.
Even if she has laid 8 eggs over a period of 2 weeks, all the eggs will begin incubating at the same time she begins sitting on them. This way they all hatch at the same time--and then Mom has her work cut out for her!
- Eggs will occasionally get spotted by muddy feet or the occasional poop in the nest. This is normal. The best way to clean an egg is with a dry cloth, pan scrubber, or fine sandpaper. If you must use water, clean only the spot, since wetting the entire egg removes the protective coating that helps keep it fresh.
Side note: Poop in the nest is a no-no on so many levels! This usually happens if a hen sleeps overnight in a nest. Keep nests chicken-free at night!
Here is an interesting article about egg washing:
Why the US Chills Eggs and Most of the World Doesn't