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Are free range chicken eggs better than store bought chicken eggs?
Which chicken egg is better?
I was recently given a dozen eggs by a coworker, fresh from some free range hens. Brown, white, speckled, and even light green eggs were neatly lined up in a reused supermarket egg carton. One was about two-thirds the size of the rest and was from a smaller hen. Living in suburbia, I had never seen such a vast array of shapes and colors. Conceptually, of course I knew they existed, but to see them in front of me really made me question my knowledge of the chicken egg. Besides promising me a beautiful golden yolk, my coworker mentioned that fresh chicken eggs taste much better than supermarket eggs.
I decided to put that clam to the test with a series of rigorous taste testings. Which basically means I cooked and ate a lot of eggs a lot of different ways.
Visual inspection of the eggs
While on the outside each farm egg was remarkably different, on the inside they appeared much the same. The smaller egg had less of a white, but the yolk was about the same size. I expected something odd from the light green egg, as I didn't even know they existed.
I found out later that the natural green and other pastel eggs are called "Easter Eggs" and are from a crossbreed of two different chickens.
Comparison of the fresh and supermarket eggs showed an ever so slightly darker yolk with the fresh egg. The fresh yolk was also somewhat plumper and taller than the supermarket yolk.
Have you ever had farm fresh eggs?
Hard Boiled egg comparison
One of the brown eggs and one supermarket egg were placed in a boiling pot of water and cooked for 10 minutes. Both shells remained intact during cooking. Peeling the fresh egg was marginally harder to achieve compared to the supermarket egg. According to this site the reason for the difficulty in peeling fresh eggs is the pH of the egg. As the egg ages, excess carbon dioxide is released through the porous shell, causing the pH to increase. This also causes the egg to shrink a bit, helping to separate the layers.
Both eggs were lightly salted. The taste between the fresh and the supermarket egg was undetectable to me. Both were quite good(and still warm!), but I could not tell any difference, taste wise nor detect any change in the texture.
Fried Egg Comparison
Both eggs were cooked on the same pan simultaneously on medium high heat with butter, flipped with a spatula once set, and flipped again when pictures were taken. I used the light green egg for this test, as always the supermarket egg was white. They were both salted with Morton Lite Salt which I like because it has less sodium and has added potassium, calcium, and magnesium (regular salt has none of these). As you can see, the supermarket egg broke and ran a small amount.
Both eggs were very similar, however the fresh egg tasted just a tad bit better, richer. Not remarkably better as my friend and coworker suggested.
Scrambled egg comparison
Here is where the fresh egg really shined. I used a brown egg for this one. Both eggs were cracket into small cruets and scrambled with an electric hand blender. I felt scrambling by hand with a whisk would add some variability, which I am trying to avoid.
Compared side by side, the uncooked scrambled fresh egg is visually more golden compared to the pale yellow of the supermarket egg. The pictures really don't do the fresh egg justice.
I alternated bites between the fresh egg and the supermarket egg, to see if I could tell a difference. First, the most obvious thing after color is that the fresh egg had a more delicate texture, and was also thicker/taller than the supermarket egg. The texture really was exquisite and noticeable. According to Cook's Country the FDA requires supermarket eggs to be pasteurized, which can change the proteins structure, leading to shorter cakes and less fluffyt meringues. I believe something similar is happening here. Interestingly, pasteurized eggs are not available in UK supermarkets. They are also never washed nor sterilized for a variety of reasons. So the question might become "which taste better, pasteurized or unpasteurized eggs?"
The taste itself was also different. The fresh egg seemed to fill the mouth with flavor compared to the supermarket egg. This was most obvious from the first bite, but less obvious after I alternated a few times.
Nutrition facts of free range eggs vs store bought eggs
Mother Earth News had fresh eggs laid by chickens that graze in pastures tested by a laboratory and found that compared to the USDA food guide, pasture chicken (vs caged chicken) eggs had up to 2/3 more Vitamin A, twice the omega 3 fatty acid levels, 3 times more vitamin E, and 7 times more beta carotene. They also contained 1/3 less cholesterol and 1/4 less saturated fat than caged chicken eggs.
If the Mother Earth News article is even slightly accurate, pasture chicken eggs are more nutritious than caged eggs. It does make sense that hens eating a wider, more varied diet through foraging, would lay more nutritious eggs compared to chicken feed, which is mostly grain.
Given an unlimited supply of pasture chicken eggs, I would choose them over supermarket eggs every time. In some cases the taste was very obvious(the scrambled eggs), where others it was undetectable(hard boiled).
Since I don't have an unlimited supply of eggs, I am going to prioritize my pasture eggs for scrambled eggs as well as any baked goods. Hard boiled and fried will remain store bought unless I am given an endless supply of eggs from my coworker (which would be pretty great)!
I also like fresh eggs due to the fact that the person that keeps the chickens is about 5 miles from my house. The amount of gas to pick them up is far less compared to the amount a trucker uses to transport them from Lakeland, FL(my supermarket's nearest distributing center) to my local supermarket, which is over 65 miles, and doesn't include the distance from the chickens themselves to the distribution center.
This cuts on air pollution.
Finally, I like that there is a person nearby raising chickens. I like the sort of "can do" attitude that doing it yourself, not dependent on others, that this person displays. I think that is admirable, and I want to support it.
I am very excited for my next dozen eggs or so. I will do some baking with it and see if I can make some more comparisons and tests to further distinguish the pasture raised egg from the supermarket egg.
Enjoy your breakfast!