Eggs should be simple right? You buy them, crack them, use them whichever way you like and get on with your day. Well, turns out eggs aren’t as simple as we think. A look at egg packages at your local grocery store tells you eggs aren’t just eggs, but their organic, brown, white, free-range, free-run, cage-free and more. So what’s the difference? The eggs available at your supermarket aren’t labeled differently because they’re very different on the inside, but because the hens that lay the eggs are differently raised. So what do all those labels mean? We’ve cracked open the story behind each label so you can make a smarter choice for your next breakfast.
Brown and White Eggs
The debate between these two types is endless, but research shows that nutritionally, brown and white eggs are exactly the same. The only difference between brown and white eggs is the hens that lay them. Generally, white-feathered chickens lay white eggs, and brown-feathered chickens lay brown eggs. So why the price difference? More often that not, brown-feathered chickens are larger than white-feathered chickens, meaning the need more food, which means they cost more to keep. To compensate, brown eggs are little more expensive than white eggs. These eggs go to show that in doesn’t matter what colour our shells are, we’re all the same on the inside.
Whether the chickens are brown or white, they’re raised the same way. Regular eggs are the most popular and cheapest in the grocery store, but the way they are raised hits a nerve with some people. More often that not, these chickens are raised in over crowded barns, with little or no access to perches, nests, the outdoors or anything that a chicken really wants or needs. Because of the overcrowded conditions, chickens are given antibiotics to ward off sickness and hormones to boost egg production. Their feed usually consists of some grain and animal by-products.
The next most popular option from your grocery store, Omega-3 eggs are one type of egg that are nutritionally different from the others. These chickens are fed the usual diet of grain and animal by-products, with the addition of omega-3 source foods, like flaxseed. On average, eggs produced by these chickens have five times as much Omega-3 than regular eggs. Other than that, these chickens are raised just the same at the chickens that lay regular eggs, meaning sub-par conditions and additions like antibiotics and hormones. If you want omega-3 but don’t want to support the lives these chickens lead, try different sources like salmon, trout or walnuts.
The difference in these is only slightly different, but not enough for each of them to get their own little spot. Free-run chickens are those that aren’t confined to cages, can roam free around their barn, but don’t always have access to the outdoors. Cage-free chickens are those that don’t live in cramped cage with multiple other chickens, have access to at the barn area, but don’t have any access to the outdoors. Either way, these chickens still live in densely packed barns with little to no natural light and are given the same feed, antibiotics and hormones as chickens that lay regular eggs.
These chickens have access to the outdoors most the year (as weather permits) and roost or perch for resting. Free-range chickens aren’t fed any antibiotics or hormones, but because the government doesn’t regulate free-range egg farms, you’d have to trust in the farmers themselves. Some farmers say these chickens are “naturally-raised”.
While these chickens are kept in cages, there is a minimum two square feet per chicken rule that allows for a little more wing room. Also, the cages are moved to different grassy areas, so that the chickens can peck away at seeds and insects for themselves, which makes up for 20 per cent of their diet. Within their supplemental feed, they’re given no antibiotics or hormones. Pastured eggs are also more nutritious than regular eggs, with more omega-3s, vitamin E and less cholesterol than regular eggs. They’re also much harder to find in markets, due to quotas and laws.
Most people believe that organic is the way to go for everything. For eggs, this may be the case. Chickens that produce organic eggs live similar lives to those who lay pastured eggs. With a diet free of antibiotics, hormones and GMOs, these chickens are fed an organic diet and given access to outdoor pastures, natural light, perches and roosts. The organic label is the only label with a legal definition, so you know that what you’re reading is what you’re getting.
→ Have you decided which eggs are the ones for you? Now try them in this Sausage and Egg Breakfast Muffin recipe!