Tag Archives: food production

5 Things To Look For In Every Egg You Eat

An Egg-to-Egg Comparison

Last week we ran out of eggs, which, according to my wife, is similar to the satellite going out during the finale of True Blood. A show I will never understand, but apparently there’s a vampire named Bill.I couldn’t get to the farm, so I bought some from the local grocery. When we finally got more pastured eggs, I took this rare opportunity to do a comparison. A little Egg vs. Egg; a yolk-to-yolk death match. And I wanted to show you 5 things I know to look for, and ones you can look for too.So which egg will crack first? Will it be a scramble to the finish line? Or will this one be over easy? Let’s boil it down. (I sincerely apologize for all this – it’s been a long week)

Our Contenders: Pastured Eggs vs. The Rest

The upper box is the one we get from pastured chickens at the local farm run by Jordan & Laura Greenwho learned from none other than Joel Salatin at Polyface (I love that we live just 40 minutes from there). The chickens are allowed to roam mostly free in very large sunny areas, make nests and lay eggs where they want, and eat their species-specific diet of mostly bugs, rodents, and grasses. They are supplemented with a very small amount of feed. I buy them for $3/dozen.

The lower box is from the store. I should point out I didn’t buy the cheap ones. The box promotes all the current “buzz” words to make health-conscious people pay extra for them — they are “USDA organic,” “Grade A,” “cage-free, hormone and antibiotic free,” and “vegetarian fed” (even though chickens aren’t vegetarians). They were the most expensive ones in the store (about $4/dozen).

From that steep price and all the marketing on the box, you’d think they were also blessed by the Pope and sprinkled with holy water. But are they really that good?

The Five Signs of a High-Quality, Highly Nutritious Egg

In general your best and maybe only chance of finding a highly nutritious egg is to know where it came from. Find a local producer who raises “pastured” chickens on their species-specific diet (as opposed to just cage-free or vegetarian fed). Chickens love lots of open space, sunlight, and grazing on bugs and grasses, and even small rodents.

Whatever you do, don’t believe that just because the eggs are from “cage-free” or “organic” chickens that they are high quality or as nutritious. Yes, they are better and you’re getting few synthetic hormones, chemicals, and antibiotics, but they should not be considered high quality because the chickens are not eating what chickens eat. And very often “cage free” means nothing more than they are in a barn running around — they have no access to grass, bugs, and very little access to natural sunlight.

But what if I don’t know where the egg comes from? Thankfully, you can tell the quality of an egg with a high degree of accuracy just from looking at them. A properly fed, healthy egg will show five distinct features:

  • A Strong Shell. If you tap the shell once and it easily breaks, it can be a sign the chicken who laid it was not in optimal health. This often relates to the amount of protein in the hen’s diet as well as their age. Shell color is not a good indicator — it just denotes the breed of hen.
  • A Dark Orange-Yellow Yolk. This is the big one and is indicative of what the hen ate during the time it laid that egg. The darker orange it is, the more grasses, bugs, grubs, and worms it ate. The color is from beta-carotene (yep, the same thing that makes carrots orange) and related substances called lutein and zeaxanthin — all beneficial anti-oxidants that are associated with eye health, brain health, and lower cancer rates. A study in the Journal of Nutrition (Aug 2004) showed Lutein to be best absorbed from egg yolks over vegetable sources, likely due to the fact that it is fat-soluble (meaning it needs fat to be absorbed). Some commercial egg producers are feeding chickens with food coloring or other by-products to make yolks more yellow, but they don’t yet have to put it on the label (as in the case of farmed salmon). It’s interesting that one of the ingredients they use to do this (astaxanthin) is actually associated with eye problems in humans — the complete opposite effect of pastured eggs!
  • A Tall, Domed Yolk. A high quality egg’s yolk should hold it’s shape as a nice, tall dome. If the yolk is more flat and kind of spread out, you’re looking at a lower quality, less nutritious egg.
  • A Clear Egg “White.” If the clear (what some refer to as the “white”) has any color to it, from a little yellow to green, you’re probably looking at a poor quality egg from a chicken who was not optimally healthy. This part of the egg should be perfectly clear prior to cooking.
  • Less Running of the Clear. You’ll notice that the clear of the egg will have a more distinct shape and then around that will be some runoff that just spreads around the pan. A high-quality egg from a pastured chicken (which again is different from free range and cage free) will not have as much run-off. The less there is, the better quality your egg.

Warning: Store-bought eggs will also go through a “sanitizing” wash. These washes remove the egg’s natural defensive coating so they don’t last as long as new bacteria and oxygen can more easily enter the egg.

Are pastured eggs more nutritious? Some other bloggers and nutritionists will say that a pastured egg with a darker-colored yolk is no more nutritious than any other egg. These claims are flat out nonsense. A 2007 study showed that pastured chickens eating their species-specific diet had 1/4 less saturated fat, 2/3 more Vitamin A, 2x the Omega 3′s, 3x times the Vitamin E, and 7x the amount of beta carotene. They also have higher levels of other non-vitamin anti-oxidants such as lutein and zeaxanthin as stated above.

Now that you’re an Egg-spert, Let’s compare our Two Eggs…

While my camera skills and the lighting isn’t the best, you can probably spot the store bought, supposedly “USDA organic” “cage free” “healthy” egg on the left — it’s got a bright yellow yolk, slightly dis-colored “clear” part, and what you may not be able to tell is that while it has a distinct shape to the clear, it was also far more runny.

The pastured one on the right has a large domed, dark orange yolk, a very clear “clear,” and was well-shaped and less runny. And I have to say the yolk of the pastured egg tasted awesome, while the bright yellow one tasted a little bit like nothing.


These are just a few of the reasons to buy eggs from local pastured chickens. If you can’t find these in your area, there are a few companies I trust. One is FRENZ, which are sold at Whole Foods, but there are several others.

But the point is this: Never trust labels or buzz words on egg packaging. Words like “cage free” “vegetarian fed” and even “omega 3 enriched” mean almost nothing.

Just know where your eggs came from, know what the chickens ate and how they live, and look for the 5 signs I’ve shared above. If you do that, you’ll never go wrong eating eggs. I personally enjoy up to a dozen per week.



“I wanted to add this comment from the original website, since it was very relevant to this article”

Chris Beasley • 5 months ago

Couple errors. Shell strength is a factor of minerals, not protein. Chickens are often fed supplemental minerals (azomite) to increase shell strength, small scale flocks sometimes are fed ground up shells to recycle the minerals back into the chicken. Technically, a factory chicken should have a stronger egg, commercial egg production companies care about egg strength, because the eggs must be handled by machinery, and broken eggs cost money. So the use of mineral additives (which are natural) is ubiquitous. Your family farm source could also be supplementing with this (they use a “Small” amount of feed, subjective statements which always make me suspicious, afterall). But egg strength isn’t going to be a factor of egg health, since usually factory eggs are in fact stronger. Second error is with the viscosity of the yolk and white. It isn’t health or diet of the chicken, it is the age of the egg. Your store bought eggs are almost always going to be much older, even if you buy them on the same day, and in your test you bought them days (weeks?) apart. Give your other eggs a month to mellow out and they’ll get saggy too. You’re right on the yolk color but for a proper comparison you need to make sure the chickens are the same breed (and they aren’t). A good experiment, take two chickens of the same breed, perhaps from the same mother, segregate them, put one on the free range forage diet, the other on corn and soy commercial feed. You’ll probably get the same result on yolk color, and you’ll have removed remaining uncontrolled variables.

Genetically Engineered Food and Engineering

From Ron Hamilton
Sunworks Farm

Last December when I was in Ottawa for the Canadian Organic Technical Review Committee the consumer representative on the committee asked us to use the term Genetically Engineered (GE) when we were talking about Genetically Modified Organisms. Since then I have been thinking a lot about the term genetically engineered and its similarities and differences to engineering.
Engineering is not infallible.
Around us there are a multitude of examples of engineering with magnificent buildings, bridges and technology as examples. The engineering that has been used in these structures has had centuries of research and knowledge behind it and we use some of the most sophisticated technology to build our world, but we still have buildings and bridges that fall down. We have recalls on cars and products because the engineers hadn’t foreseen a problem. Engineering isn’t infallible. There are multiple processes in place to make the engineering as fail safe as possible and the industry and government have set in place regulations that help protect us and yet problems still arise.
We are told by the corporations that make GE products that there is absolutely no risk in their engineering and their practices are fail safe. If we can have engineering challenges in the world of physical engineering, nonliving structures, it would make sense that we could also have problems in genetically engineering living organisms which are infinitely more complex than a bridge. The engineering and research behind genetically engineered products is just decades old and we have only had this technology available for a short time. If a person has done any research into how a GE product is made they will realize that there isn’t a huge amount of engineering done but it is a huge factor of good luck. If part of your engineering is good luck I don’t think I would want to drive on that bridge.
The consequences of bad engineering.
When bad physical engineering happens there can often be dire consequences. However the consequences for the environment and the world as a whole are often temporary. A pile of rubble, a diverted stream or river, pollution in the river, killed fish and aquatic life are all environmental consequences if a bridge fails. They are damaging but can be cleaned up and put back together, fish can be restocked, pollution can be cleaned up and a diverted stream or river can be returned to its natural course.
Genetically engineered foods are different from this in that when they fail there is no way to clean up the mess and restore the world to the way it was. Natural systems have over many thousands of years adapted to their surroundings but by engineering living organisms we are taking engineering short cuts that will have long term consequences. Plants that are genetically modified can spread from wind, birds, bugs, bees and water. We are releasing something that we cannot take back. Cross pollination can happen with non-genetically engineered as well as wild plants. Already there has been shown to be contamination of non GE corn with GE corn genes even though the GE corn was not planted near non GE corn fields.
The ability to fix the problem.
In physical engineering if there is a problem with a bridge swinging in too much wind, a building that is found to be extremely inefficient, or a car that has a bad part, the problem can be fixed. Bridges can be reinforced, buildings can be reinsulated and cars can be recalled and the part replaced. Problems that arise can be fixed. It is not the same with the genetic engineering of our food.
When a problem arises in our genetically engineered food the problems are not fixable for there is no way to isolate the problem. The bridge can be shut down until it is fixed. GE crops cannot all be destroyed when we realize that they are affecting the environment. An inefficient building can have extra heaters added to it to fix the problem until a long tern solution is available. GE foods cannot be reengineered once they are in the food system. A car affected by the bad part can have the bad part removed and can be returned to the road. The GE genes in a plant cannot be removed and the plant returned to the market, when they start to cause harm to human health and the environment.
For me the fact that we use the word engineering to describe genetically modified organism highlights some of the dangers of this technology. The way to combat this is to buy organic products and products that do not contain genetically engineered ingredients. If we refuse to buy these products then there will be no market for them. We need to push for the labeling of GE foods so that consumers have the ability to choose what they want to eat and how they want to vote with their dollar.
One of the fundamentals of organic agriculture is to work in and with natural living systems. We believe there are no engineering shortcuts to feed our customers the cleanest, purest and best food in the world.
Ron Hamilton