30 June 2008

Caged Eggs vs. Free-Range Eggs

In the past, I have indeed noticed a difference in free-range eggs, but it was subjective. I didn't do any tests. I knew a family with a dozen or so chickens and I ate their eggs all the time. The first thing I noticed is that the yolks were more orange than yellow. The second thing was that I could swear the eggs tasted better. Eggs don't have strong flavor, but I was positive that these were better.

I'm no longer acquainted with the family anymore so now I buy eggs just like the commoners. Recently I bought some free-range eggs ($3.50) from a Brown County woman selling them at Findlay Market. I was curious to see if I could discern differences from the factory eggs I usually get.

Once again, the yolks were deeper in color. The eggs also cooked differently (fried and scrambled). "Fluffier" is the only way I can describe it. I did not notice any difference in taste but as I said, eggs aren't exactly palate-punchers.

So now we have the matter of nutritional content in caged vs. free-range eggs. Apparently this is not a hotbed area of research but I did find a couple relevant studies.

Last year, Mother Earth News asked an independent lab to analyze eggs from 14 free-range flocks around the country. The results are here and reveal two things: first, the nutritional profile of free-range eggs is significantly different from caged eggs; and second, even among the free-range flocks there is variation in certain areas. For example, although the free-range eggs were lower in saturated fat on average, a couple of the flocks actually tested higher than caged eggs.

Different flocks have different diets and this is the likely explanation for the inter-flock variation in nutritional components. This Penn State study investigated the role that different diets have on egg nutrition.

So the data shows that free-range eggs are more nutritious overall. But given the inter-flock variation, the only way to get a specific idea of how much better they are is to visit the farm and see the chickens. Then you can make a fully informed 'better health' vs. 'higher cost' decision.

Too much work? You can do what I do and just go by the orange yolk.


valereee said...

I get my eggs straight from the farm (or occasionally from the farmer at market) and the difference is amazing. Deep, deep orange yolks, more flavor, and even a better =texture= -- eggy instead of rubbery.

Just as an FYI, 'cage-free' and even 'free-range' doesn't necessarily mean pastured. Pastured is what you want for chickens that are running around outside eating bugs and such.

LDP said...

I know people who raise chickens (in Northside!) and they say once you eat fresh eggs you never want to buy them from the supermarket again.

Wes said...

I grew up on a farm, but it was hogs, corn and soybeans. One of my brothers just recently started raising chickens specifically for the eggs.

We're going home for a day or two around the 4th, so I'll see if I can't swipe a couple of eggs. If so, I'll give a full report.


Mark said...

Related Straight Dope link,