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What Eggsactly Do You Need to Know About Buying Eggs?

At A Menu for You we focus on using fresh organic ingredients in all our menus.  If you’re looking for menus using can of chicken soup, or recipes based on crushed Cheetos, sorry, you won’t find those recipes here.  Why don’t we use those ingredients?  Donna and I believe that fresh and organic is synonymous with amazing flavor.  It is also important to us to buy food that is from humanely treated and raised animals.  However, it can be overwhelming when you visit the grocery store because of all the choices.  What do all the labels mean?  We will answer those questions here, and what better place to start than at the very beginning --- with eggs.

Eggs are used in everything from savory to sweet; breakfast to dinner.  They are a staple in everyone’s refrigerator.  Egg cartons also happen to have a variety of labels, sometimes multiple labels and descriptions.  What eggs do you buy?  Brown or white?  What do all the labels even mean? Cage-free? Free range? Pasture raised? Organic?

Here we will crack the case on the different types of eggs, and what their labels mean, so next time you’re in the store you’ll know “egg”sactly what eggs to buy and why.

Farmers Market: Nothing beats going to your local market and buying eggs that were, most likely, laid earlier that day.  The bright yellow yolk, the pure flavor, and the freshness is truly unparalleled.

Pasture Raised:  These eggs tend to be a bit more expensive, but their taste makes them worth every penny. I love using these in their purest form  -- scrambled eggs, eggs over easy, hard-boiled eggs.  In dishes where the egg is the star, these eggs shine.  They will also make your pancakes fluffier and your cakes rise higher. Why?  Pasture raised means the chickens are allowed to roam free ALL DAY in the pasture, eating natural food: seeds, green plants, insects and worms.  Eating natural food results in the most gorgeous sunshine yellow yolks and rich flavor.  The chickens are happy, and happy chickens lay the most fabulous tasting eggs.   These eggs also have 2 ½ times the amount of Omega-3 and twice the amount of Vitamin E than eggs laid by caged hens.

Free Range:   These eggs are laid by chickens that have SOME access to the outside.  That means they do spend time in a cage, or in an open area inside a barn.  The cages and barn may or may not be crowded, depending on the farm.   Farms are able to call their eggs “free range” even if the only outside area is a small covered area directly outside the barn.  These chickens are, most likely, fed diets of genetically engineered soy and corn, which are not a natural food for them.   You will know what type of food the chickens eat based on the color of the yolk.  These eggs may have a bright yellow yolk, or it might be paler.

Cage Free: These chickens are in large enclosures inside a barn, with NO access to the outdoors.   Depending on the size of the enclosures, the chickens may or may not have plenty of room to move around.  They are also fed a diet similar to free range chickens, which means they are, most likely, not eating a diet natural for them.

Organic Eggs:  This label means the chickens eat organic feed, have access to the outdoors and are not raised in cages.  The amount of access to the outdoors and how large an outdoor space depends on the farm.   This label may be on farm raised and cage free egg cartons.

Commercial Eggs: These eggs are laid by chickens in overcrowded cages with no access to the outdoors.  To increase the size of the chickens they are given growth hormones.  They are also fed diets of genetically engineered food.  These yolks will be very pale yellow.

Certified Humane Raised and Handled: This is another label you may see on a carton of eggs.  It means that the chickens weren’t raised in cages and were allowed to nest naturally.  You may see this label on a carton of Free Range, Cage Free or Organic Eggs.

Brown or White? The color doesn’t matter at all.  Brown eggs aren’t better than white or vice versa.  The color simply relates to the breed of chicken that laid the egg.

Now the next time you’re standing in front of the eggs at your local grocery store, you will be able to decipher each label and know what to buy for the freshest and best tasting eggs laid by happy chickens.

Donna and I highly recommend the farmers market and pasture raised eggs as our first choice.  If you don’t have access to either of these, look for “certified humane raised and handled”, “organic” or “free range/vegetarian.”

Happy Cooking!

Lisa and Donna

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