Why the Craze for Local Eggs? Posted on 26 Oct 13:18
Here’s a fun fact: "eggs" is the most commonly searched term on MarketWagon.com by an astounding margin. More people search for “eggs” than the next three highest searches combined. It makes sense, because everyone knows at least one friend who is a bit of an egg snob—only the farm-fresh eggs will do. And everyone seems to have their own “hook up,” too.
Think the egg craze is just plain crazy? Think again.
To the average person, the qualities that are often touted seem superficial. Why do I care if there is an orange yolk or pale yellow one? What do brown shells have to do with quality?
Behind these superficial qualities lie appreciable benefits to one’s diet. That bright orange color is a manifestation of the increased vitamin and mineral content. Heather Karsten, associate professor of crop production ecology at Penn State University conducted a study and reported, "Compared to eggs of the commercial hens, eggs from pastured hens eggs had twice as much vitamin E and long-chain omega-3 fats.” She went on to explain the science behind these differences saying, “fat-soluble vitamins, including A and E, and the unsaturated fats, linoleic and linolenic acids, are egg responsive, and that hen diet has a marked influence on the egg concentration.”
In layman’s terms, that means hens raised on a forage diet—often called “pasture-raised” hens, which is categorically different and not to be confused with mere “free range” hens—will have appreciably better-tasting eggs, visibly marked by orange yolks, and they’re better for you, too.
But what about that brown shell?
Unlike the yolk, which you must break the egg to see, the shell color is an easier indicator of an egg’s provenance. But it only indicates what breed of chicken laid the egg, nothing else about the egg’s nutrition or taste.
However, there is one breed of hen that commercial farms have turned to for producing eggs in massive quantities under confined conditions using a pure grain diet—the Leghorn hen. And the Leghorn hen lays a white egg.
Smaller farms selling their eggs in the local markets must turn to other breeds of hens—often called “heritage” breeds because they pre-date the industrialized era of agriculture—which retain the instincts to forage for insects, seeds, and even grasses. Many of these heritage breed chickens, such as the Rhode Island Red, are also well suited for outdoor living with longer legs for running in grass, denser feathers for cold nights, and the ability to lift off the ground for short distances to avoid predators.
It’s these heritage breeds that lay brown eggs, and even sometimes hues of green and pink.
Tapping into the superficial perception that brown eggs are healthier, some commercial growers have put brown-laying eggs into their confinement barns, and you can now find brown eggs at the supermarket. But remember, it’s not the shell that makes the egg better, it’s the diet. And those hens have likely never seen a blade of grass nor have they snatched a cricket from under a rock.
So your egg-crazed friends aren’t crazy. There is a spectrum of egg quality. The only way to know you’re getting the best eggs—both in flavor and nutrition—is to get eggs fresh off the farm where they could roam, forage, and produce those bright orange yolks everyone loves. It’s a farming method, however, that is a little more hands-on. It’s a way of raising hens that’s nearly impossible to do at an industrial scale. That’s why you won’t find these eggs at the supermarket. You can’t get them on Amazon. The reason local eggs have become synonymous with good eggs is because of the overlap in farming methods with sales and distribution opportunities.
Want a crazy-good egg? Shop local, pasture-raised eggs from heritage-breed hens. It’s the only way.