We eat a lot of eggs in our house. Really – a LOT. It’s not unusual for us, as a household of three, to go through 4 dozen eggs in a week. When Beloved’s out of town, The Young One and I eat even more eggs; they’re a quick, easy and nutritious meal and we both love them. We also love the warm weather months because pastured eggs – eggs from chickens who live outside, scratching around, eating bugs and basically doing what chickens naturally do – are pretty easy to find. Recently, though, our more recent source was sold out so we were forced to buy eggs from our “winter supplier” – the tiny, local health food store. There’s nothing wrong with these eggs; they’re from a local chicken farm and the laying hens are humanely raised. But with a 30-acre farm and over 300 laying hens, which doesn’t include the broilers, I don’t believe the chickens are allowed to range very far and that their diets are heavily supplemented with grain.
Most people who keep or farm chickens supplement their feed with grain, which is fine, but chickens are omnivorous – they will, in fact, eat just about anything they come across, including small animals if they can get hold of them. Any time you see chicken or eggs at the store with labels claiming the chickens were fed an “all vegetarian” diet, know that those chickens were eating an unnatural diet. And probably living an unnatural life, housed in large, windowless buildings in filthy conditions (and confined to small cages in the case of laying hens), fed nothing but cheap, GMO corn and soy. It’s really atrocious. Oh, and by the way, be very, very wary of any claims that chickens or their eggs are “free range” or “organic” or “raised without growth hormones.” The USDA regulations allow a “free range” label if the chickens have access to the outside (which, in some cases, merely means a single small door, left open); nor does it differentiate between the type of “outside” the chicken has access to – it could be grass, or it could be a concrete lot. An “organic” label usually only means the chicken’s feed does not contain pesticides or chemical-based fertilizer. “Raised without growth hormones” is basically meaningless, since the USDA prohibits the use of growth hormones in both chicken and pork.
Anyway, back to my story. We bought a couple dozen eggs from the local health food store, but it didn’t take us long to find another good source for pastured eggs. Being the sensible people we are, we used the store-bought eggs first since we had them. So, I came to the end of these eggs the other night; after making one for the dog (yes, I made the dog an egg, but I make all his food – I’ll post more about that later if you like), I cracked the last two into the same bowl. The Young One then informed me that he was very hungry, so I cracked one of the pastured eggs into the bowl as well.
And this is what I saw:
Do you see the difference? Believe me, if the eggs on the right had been battery-produced eggs from the grocery store, the difference would be even more striking. See how orange the egg yolk is? How it doesn’t flatten out like the others? The white also kept it’s shape; the whites of the other two are watery and loose. In the winter, the pastured egg yolks will lose some of their color, going from a deep orange to a bright yellow (more like the yolk on the bottom right), because the chicken’s feed becomes more limited, but the other characteristics will remain.
The taste of a pastured egg is every bit as different from a battery-produced egg as the appearance is. The yolks are creamier and the taste is so much more rich – as Beloved commented when I posted this photo on the blog’s Facebook page, the difference is really night and day; grocery store eggs seem anemic and bland to us now. My brother, whose family has also gone what I refer to as “au naturale,” said his 5-year-old son recently refused scrambled eggs made from grocery store eggs, saying they weren’t “yellow enough.”
As for the nutritional value of pastured eggs – again, battery-produced eggs don’t come close, despite what the USDA and U.S. Poultry and Egg Association would have us believe. Pastured eggs contain nearly twice as much vitamin A, twice as much omega 3 fatty acids (yes, even more than those “omega 3 eggs” at the store), 3 times more vitamin E, 7 times more beta carotene (aha! that explains that orange yolk), 50% more folic acid and as much as 70% more vitamin B12. They also contain 1/3 less cholesterol and 1/4 less saturated fat, if you tend to worry about that sort of thing.
Remember the salmonella scare last year? The risk of salmonella is very, very, very low with pastured eggs. I had a reader take issue with that claim when I posted my homemade mayonnaise recipe a few months ago. This person claimed their niece was hospitalized for 2 weeks because she contracted salmonella by eating French silk pie, which contains raw eggs, and that the eggs were purchased at a local farm. Interestingly enough, when I emailed this reader to ask her some questions – such as who made the pie – it bounced back as undeliverable because the email address did not exist. Even if this person’s claim is true, I doubt the eggs themselves were to blame; it is far more likely the conditions the pie was made in were the culprit. Joel Salatin writes about this very thing in his book Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal – several diners at a local restaurant contracted salmonella after eating hollandaise sauce made with eggs purchased from Joel’s farm. The eggs were seized by the local health department who then told the restaurant owner he could no longer use eggs purchased at Polyface Farm at all. It turned out the eggs were not to blame, but the conditions in the restaurant’s kitchen that gave the diners salmonella. It did no good; the health department destroyed the eggs and their order for the restaurant to cease using the Polyface Farm eggs stood.
So there you have it; superior appearance, superior flavor and superior nutrition. You’ll pay more for pastured eggs, of course, because they cost more to produce, but they are so much better than factory-farmed that they are worth it. I was going to include a recipe for French-style scrambled eggs with this post, but it’s long enough already, so you’ll get that next week. Happy Friday, y’all, and have a lovely weekend.
Posted in participation of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday