We go through some eggs here at our house. They’re an easy protein source, and ounce for ounce, it’s tough to get a more economical source of quality protein for the price.
As I’ve mentioned a time or two, we’ve made some big changes over the years to the types of foods that we buy and eat. As we’ve learned more about how to nourish our bodies, we’ve slowly but surely shifted our food choices to ones that support more sustainable farming practices and also more nourishing foods for our bodies.
One of those things has been an emphasis on eggs.
Switching to the “Good Eggs”
We used to buy eggs at the grocery store and be happy for pay about a dollar for a dozen, but as I started to do more research on how to best feed our family, I started to look into the types of eggs that we were eating.
But seriously, why are egg carton labels so darn confusing? It seems that everyone is adding descriptors their egg labels and upping their prices, but are they really any better than the “dollar a dozen eggs”?
Eh. Long story short- it depends. But here’s a quick reference to egg carton labels:
Deciphering Egg Carton Terms
White vs. Brown Eggs: The color of the egg doesn’t affect the nutritional value and is only a cosmetic indicator of what breed of chicken laid it. Some breeds lay blue, pink, and yellow eggs- and if we ever are able to get backyard chickens, my daughters have determined that we will have rainbow chickens. I am inclined to agree with them. 🙂
All-Natural and Farm Fresh: Unfortunately, these terms mean nothing. These are just labels that companies add to make the consumer believe that their product is wholesome. If the carton doesn’t have any other labels or certifications, these eggs likely came from a hen “farm”. On these farms, chickens live in a windowless warehouse stuffed in a tiny cage about the size of a shoe box. They are often given feed that contains of animal byproducts, hormones, and genetically modified soy and corn. As wonderful as it might seem to be “farm fresh”, these are not eggs from happy chickens.
Grade-A: The U.S. Poultry & Egg Association website explains egg-grading like this: “Eggs are graded based on their quality and appearance. Grade AA eggs have thick, firm whites and high, round yolks. Their shells are clean and unbroken. Grade A eggs are like Grade AA, but their whites are ‘reasonably’ firm. Grade A eggs are usually sold in stores. Grade B eggs have thin whites and wider yolks. The shells are unbroken, but might show slight stains.“ Eggs are graded by a professional egg-grader (that’s not their actual title, but that’s what they actually do… grade eggs all day long) who takes a look at eggs appearance The grading is done by an individual at the egg packing plant that checks the eggs. Companies don’t HAVE to have their eggs graded, but many pay the USDA to grade their eggs in order to put that on the label and charge a bit more. This labeling has no impact on the chicken’s well-being or nutritional value of the egg. It only applies to the eggs- namely the way they look. (Source)
Pasteurized (not to be confused with pastured): This labeling isn’t so common, but these eggs have been heated in a commercial water bath to kill off all bacteria and viruses without cooking the egg.
Vegetarian-fed: This means what it says. The chickens were fed grain that doesn’t include any animal byproduct, which sounds all well and good except that chickens aren’t vegetarians. Chickens are omnivores. When left to their natural chickening ways, chickens like to eat bugs. SO, really what that vegetarian-fed label tells you is that the chickens that laid these eggs had no access to the outdoors and were raised in a chicken house.
Omega-3 Enhanced: Eggs that receive this label come from chickens that were fed a product, most likely flaxseed, to boost the omega-3 nutrition in their eggs. Because of not-so-great diet and living conditions, the eggs laid by these hens would have less omega-3 in their eggs without the flaxseed.
Cage-Free: The chickens aren’t kept in tiny cages, however this term usually means that the chickens are kept in a large, dimly lit barn-like building or warehouse that houses thousands of the birds. The space is wall to wall with chickens. Chickens aren’t crammed into tiny cages and can roam around the chicken house, but on the by and large, it’s not much different than chickens raised in a battery hen house. Just no little cages- hence the “cage free” labeling.
Free-range and Free-Roaming: Similar to “cage-free”, the chickens are kept indoors without cages, but these birds have “access” to the outdoors. There aren’t any strict regulations ensuring the chickens actually go outdoors. Often times, these large warehouses have a tiny opening to the outside and that allows them to be certified as free-range.
Organic: If the carton has a USDA Certified Organic label, then the chickens were fed a vegetarian diet that is certified organic and contains no antibiotics or pesticides. Also, as a part of the certified organic label, hens laying under this label also meet the free-range label standards.
Pastured or Pasture Raised: A pastured chicken spends most of their days outside in a grassy area where they are free to scratch for bugs and soak up the sunshine. The chicken’s natural diet is supplemented with a healthy diet of grain and kitchen scraps. These chickens are free to do all of their natural, chicken-y behaviors and have a safe coop to nest in at night. These eggs are not often found at a grocery store, and if you see them there, be suspicious. Pastured eggs are more likely sold at a farmers market or straight from the farm. Around my home in Lancaster, PA, we know a number of farms where we pick up pastured eggs and actually see where the chickens live… and seeing is believing!
From a nutritional standpoint, pastured eggs have better overall nutritional content when compared with USDA Grade A eggs, with 4- six times more Vitamin D and one-third of the cholesterol. Additionally, they have one-fourth of the saturated fat, more Vitamin A, twice the omega-3 fatty acids, seven time more beta carotene. Pastured eggs and grocery store eggs are scarcely even the same product.
Our Go-to, Hands Down Favorite Egg Dish
So there you go– a quick rundown on egg labels. For my family, we get pastured eggs when we can from farmers and markets that we trust are actually letting their chickens roam free and forage to their little hearts desire. That does mean that we pay about $4 per dozen eggs in our area, but we’ve determined that it’s worth it because of the increased nutritional value. We also have swapped out eggs for some other protein sources (like beef) because it’s more affordable for the quality that we value.
Now, eggs do often end up as a last minute dinner for us- scrambled or fried or something simple. One of our favorites is this frittata with caramelized onions and sweet potatoes. It comes together pretty quickly and is gobbled up fast.
- 3 tablespoon olive oil (divided)
- 11/2 cup sliced onion
- 1.5 tablespoons of chopped rosemary
- 1 cup chopped kale
- 2 cups peeled and chopped sweet potatoes
- Sprinkling of black pepper
- Sprinkling of salt
- 8 eggs
- ¼ cup of milk
- ½ tsp hot sauce
- ½ tsp dijon mustard
- ½ cup of cheese
- 3 T of fresh rosemary, chopped (to top before serving)
- Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
- Heat one tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat in an oven-safe saute pan.
- Add sliced onions and saute about 5 minutes until softened, stirring occasionally.
- Reduce heat to low and add 1.5 tablespoons of rosemary. Cook very slowly-- 40-50 minutes, scraping the pan every 10 minutes or so, but keeping the onions evenly spread.
- While the onions are cooking, toss potatoes in olive oil and spread on a prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste
- Bake for 25 minutes until fork tender and slightly browned. Remove, but keep the oven on at 400.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together 8 eggs, milk, hot sauce, and dijon mustard. Set aside.
- Add chopped kale to the saute pan with the onions and cook until just wilted.
- Add sweet potatoes to the saute pan with the onions and the kale.
- Pour egg mixture over the sweet potatoes, kale, and onions and allow to cook on the stovetop until just barely set.
- When just a bit of the egg remains uncooked, place in the oven for about 15 minutes.
- Add shredded cheese to the top during the last five minutes of cooking.
- Eggs will be set and puffy, and cheese will be melted. Sprinkle with remaining chopped rosemary.
What are some of your favorite egg dishes?