What you see here is an egg from my friend Jess’s hens. The hens have ample room to run around in the open and are fed a diet of bugs and worms they peck in the grass (in the summertime) and kitchen scraps. Have you ever seen a more beautiful egg than that?
I can still remember the first time I cracked open a real egg (I say real because most of the eggs available to us are raised in ways that are quite far from natural). A beautiful, gigantic BRIGHT ORANGE yolk was staring back up at me and in my ignorance I thought that there must be something wrong with it. I called my sweetheart into the kitchen and asked him whether he thought it edible, and when he didn’t know, I called my mom to ask her. It seemed no one quite knew what to make of the mysterious orange egg.
But I soon found out that eggs yolks are SUPPOSED to be orange. We think that they are yellow only because we are so used to eating nutritionally devoid eggs from caged up chickens fed on grain. The orange indicates an abundance of beta-carotene and other carotenoids (like those found in orange vegetables like carrots and squash), that the chicken gets into it’s diet through the consumption of vegetable scraps, worms and bugs. Caged hens fed on grain meal get very little carotenoids (not to mention other nutrients) in their diet, so the yolk is only a pale yellow.
Notice how the egg white is gelatinous and has substance? Another good indication of a hen fed a nutritious diet. The white has an almost greenish-yellow tinge which indicates a high riboflavin (vitamin B2) content.
Take a look at the shell….notice how thick and smooth it is? This indicates the abundant minerals in the hen’s diet.
Notice how plump and perky the yolk is – standing tall against the white? That is something you see only in very fresh eggs (this egg was laid 3 days ago). Eggs in the store often are transported long distances and sit on the shelf for a bit before you get them home to the kitchen. You crack them open and the yolk flattens out in a runny mess – telling you your egg is stale.
Another fun trick to assess the freshness of your egg is to drop it in bowl of cold water. As an egg sits, moisture is evaporated through the shell and an air bubble forms. A fresh egg sinks because it contains very little air, while a stale egg will float to the top because it has a large air bubble. For the same reason, a fresh egg can be very hard to peel because the white fills up the entire shell and sticks to it when cooked, so that a few layers of white get peeled away with the shell. The contents of an egg that has sat for a week or so shrink away from the shell and make it far easier to peel.
There are a few things that you can’t see in this egg that are also very important. Eggs that get vegetable scraps, bugs, and worms in their diet are extremely high in the omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA (important for brain function, eye health, and countering inflammation to name a few). Jess feeds her eggs the skins of wild salmon in the winter to give them an extra source, and many farmers will feed their hens flax seed to boost omega 3 levels. A free range, pasture raised hen’s egg will contain up to 19 times more omega 3 fatty acids than it’s grain fed counterpart, which has very high levels of pro-inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids. Yet another good reason to eat food raised in the way nature intended!
If you too would like to eat a REAL egg with a bright orange yolk, look for eggs that are labeled “pasture raised” and “free range”. Don’t be fooled by the words “cage free”, “organic” or “vegetarian fed.” All that guarantees is that the chicken might live in a crowded pen rather than a cage, and isn’t fed other ground up chickens. Better yet, find someone like my friend Jess who raises their own chickens – then you can have the satisfaction of knowing the quality of the hen’s life and the food it was nourished with. You might even be so excited by the prospect of a good egg that you’ll decide to keep your own hens in the backyard. Crazier things have happened!
PS: If I hear one more person say they can’t eat eggs because of their cholesterol, I think I will scream. Yes eggs have cholesterol, but there is no correlation between eating eggs and increasing your cholesterol levels (there are numerous studies to support this). Furthermore, eggs have choline, which helps promote increased HDL cholesterol levels (the good kind) and reduce LDL, and are brimming with omega 3 fatty acids that protect against blood clot formation and promote cardiovascular health. What you can’t eat is poor quality eggs from factory raised, caged and grain fed hens that have little omega 3’s and very little micro-nutrients. Eat all the real eggs you want.