Which came first?  The battery chicken or the organic egg?

Each year around 78 billion eggs are laid by American hens. About 98% of them are laid by battery hens in factories with the rest being laid by cage free or free range hens on farms.  A growing number of people keep chickens in their back yards or particiate in City Chicken projects.

Chickens have a varied diet. Left to their own devices, they eat insects, worms, fruit, seeds, acorns, grains, slugs, snails, and many other foods.  All commerical operations and most people who keep chickens use some form of commercial feed.

Unless you grow your own, the closer to how nature intended that a chicken lives, the more expensive the egg is to buy. So what is the deal here?  Are expensive eggs better for our bodies?  How about our minds?

What makes up an Egg?

An egg is made up of a shell, water, albumin (egg white), yolk and a little air pocket.  The egg white is mainly water and is there to protect the yolk.  The yolk is high in fat and is there for the chicken to feed off while it grows inside the egg.

Eggs are the highest quality known food protein.

Eggs are good for chickens and good for people.

They contain 13 Vitamins including Vitamin A, B and E as well as various minerals.   Plus the yolk is one of the few foods that contain the “sunshine” vitamin – Vitamin D!

What role do they play in cake making?

Eggs play a huge role in cake making:

  • They aerate the batter
  • They help with the cake to  keep its shape (structure)
  • They help bind (glue) the other ingredients together
  • They add moisture to the batter
  • The yolk adds to the color and flavor.

Since the egg white and the egg yolk play different roles you can change the quantity of each that you use. You can replace 1 whole egg with either 2 egg yolks or else 1 1/2 egg whites to change the texture.  Using yolks will produce a tastier cake with a darker color but it will have less structure.  Using whites will produce a softer cake because egg whites do not firm up as much as egg yolks when baked.

Always use room temperature eggs.

How should you store them?

Despite how fridges are designed, you should not store your eggs in the door shelf.  They should be placed inside the fridge and remain in the carton in which you bought them.

They will last at least 4 to 5 weeks beyond the pack date provided you treat them right! Eggs will age more in 1 day at room temperature than a whole week in the fridge! So only take the eggs you need out of the fridge.  Don’t take out the whole carton and leave it sitting on the kitchen bench.

And remember when baking a cake, use eggs at room temperature. If you don’t have time to wait then put one in a cup of hot water for 5 minutes!

How can you know if they are fresh?

Eggs arrive at your local store within days of being laid but how fresh they actually are relies more on the temperature they are kept at than how days old they are.

As an egg get older, the white becomes thinner and the yolk becomes flatter.  You can still use them as the nutrition content is the same. But when you crack an older egg, you’ll see it spreads out more.  So fresh eggs are better for poaching or frying.  By contrast an older egg is better for boiling as the shell comes off easier! However eggs will eventually go off. If kept inside the fridge they will probably just dry up.  Outside they will rot. Crack a rotten egg and see how it smells.  Eew!

If you are not sure how old that carton of eggs really is, just fill a clear container with 3 cups of water and a tablepoon of salt and stir. Then add the egg. If it sits on the bottom then it is fresh.   If it floats then you should check it before using.

Always crack an egg into a cup before you add it to your batter!

Does size matter?

Eggs come in Large and Extra Large these days.  While you should use the size in the recipe,  most tend to specify Large eggs anyway.

But not all Large eggs are the same weight.  The rule is that a dozen large eggs have to weigh the same. The indiviudal eggs in the dozen can vary slighly in weight. But not by very much.  Only by weighing them without the shell can you make sure you have the exact weight of eggs required for a recipe but very few recipes specifiy the actual weight.

Does color matter?

Eggs come in basically two colors: white and brown.   There is no difference in the quality of the egg but brown egg laying chickens eat more.  This is why white is so common.

How about Organic?

Organic eggs come from chicken fed organic feed.

Organic only describes the feed they eat, it is not about how the hens are housed.  So organic does not mean humane treatment of chickens although people often assume it does.

Organic does not mean that the chickens themselves are “organic” as in “no drugs”.  All it means is that they eat organic feed and at the time of laying the eggs there are no anti-biotics in their systems.  Simple as that.

Organic feed does not mean it is not contaminated with pesticides – just that no pesticides have been sprayed directly on the feed.   Some organic feeds have tested positive to PCBs due to run off from neighoring land or from prior land usage where they are still in the ground.  Pretty scary, huh?

So is there any difference in the quality of an organic egg?  Some claim organic eggs have higher levels of Vitamins A and E but it is really just depends on the feed a chicken eats.  Some organic eggs are marketed as being high in Omega 3.  These eggs just come from chickens fed grains like flaxseed. So again it is all about the feed.  And in this case, you might be better off just eating some flaxseed yourself than paying for a more expensive Omega 3 egg!

How about Free Range?

Chickens can live in several types of environments:

  • battery cages where the hen cannot move around at all and lives its life standing up which can only be described as cruel
  • cage free where they live in a “hen house” and can at least move around and have access to roosts to lay their eggs but they have no access to outdoors
  • free run/free range, where they live cage free plus have access to the outdoors but it does not mean the outdoors is somewhere they might want to go or all fit into if they did
  • free farmed, a term owned by American Humane Society, which is as close to the ideal that we can hope from commerical egg producers.

Bottom line, unless the box says something then the eggs are from battery hens. Regardless of what other label is used, it does not mean there is a rooster crowing at dawn and hens outside in the sunshine pecking around in th dirt under shade trees like our children see in story books.  The labelling of eggs  is all so misleading that only buying them direct from the farm could ensure that they are “story book” eggs.

If you have a back yard, how about keeping your own chickens?

More Information

All About Eggs

City Chickens

United Egg Producers

Posted by Annushka's Mum in
  1. We investigated the origin of eggs available in our supermarket and, organic or not ,the best option was "cage free" which has no legal definition but I guess is better than battery cages.

    We also investigated buying direct from the farm eggs here on Bay RIdge. And while you can join the Bay Ridge CSA, you can only get eggs for a 22 week period not year around. Plus they cost around $9.66 a dozen which is twice the price of cage fee eggs. Basically such an option is impractical.

    Apartment dwellers like us will just have to support cage free I guess for now.

  2. Annushka's Mum says:

    California has just passed a law about the treatment of egg laying hens. They now get more space to live in. They are also insisting that any eggs imported to CA are also treated in the same way. Way to go California!