Eggs have 100 different varieties now and it’s tough to decide between organic, free-range, white, brown, all natural, vegetarian fed, and every other label they put on there. I have most of my grocery shopping down to a science, knowing what is the good, the bad and the ugly to stay away from. But eggs and their hundreds of names confuse the heck out of me.
So I finally decided to do some background research and figure out which one I should buy. Unfortunately my news is less than optimal. As soon as you enter the grocery store your chances of buying a humanely raised, good quality egg diminishes. Standards are not regulated and there are many opportunities for an egg to be contaminated with a chemical in the process.
But first -let’s throw some info out there about eggs that will help you understand the egg aisle a bit better.
- Different states require different cleaning of eggs. Some states require eggs to go through a chlorine or lye bath and mineral coating. The cleaning process of the shell can effect the inside quality. Egg shells are porous and the cleaning process strips the egg of the protective membrane. Meaning whatever you put on the outside, ends up on the inside. Some chefs can tell the egg has been treated with mineral oil as they can not create the “stiff peaks” in their dishes.
- Most chicken eggs are factory farmed under horrible conditions. I won’t go into much but if you are unsure of what I mean, google it and squint (I have to squint to make it not so gruesome).
- Cage-free – means the chickens are in an open barn, have bedding on the ground and have nesting boxes higher up to lay their eggs. So if you think about this, they can still be in very tight quarters but they are not in a cage. My question – do they still do the beak trimming? agh.
- Free-range or free-roaming – means the chickens are not in cages and have access to an outside area. They can be housed outside or have the option to go in and out. But there are no requirements on how long they are outside or how much sunlight they get.
- Organic – they can be in cages or not. Mostly they are not. They are fed organic feed and not given any antibiotics, vaccines or hormones.
- Vegetarian-fed – Hens are fed a feed that does not contain any animal or fish byproduct. They are usually kept in cages so they can not peck the ground and eat any worms. What?! Chickens love worms and insects! Sorry, that was my big eye opener as I usually buy the vegetarian fed. Yes, I don’t want them to eat cow parts in their feed but I do want them to eat bugs!
- Pasteurized – brought to a temperature of 140 degrees F for 3 minutes. With the big salmonella outbreak in 2010 a lot of people want their eggs pasteurized. It is not required that eggs are pasteurized.
- Natural – ummm I’m still searching for what this means… nothing! The final product (the egg) has not undergone any unnatural process. What does that mean? Who knows.
- Omega -3 enriched – does not tell you anything about how the animals were treated. They are fed a diet high in omega-3s. What is the form of the omega 3s? Probably unsustainable fish but I don’t know. It differs with each farm.
- Pastured – hens are raised in portable grass shelters that are moved to provide fresh grass. BUT there is no one checking that this is actually what happens.
So the answer?! Don’t buy at the grocery store. The best eggs to buy are straight from a person that has chickens in their backyard. Find someone locally. Or even better get a few chickens for your backyard! I had the best time growing up with chickens. There was a point I begged my parents to let me have the baby chicks in my bedroom for two weeks! It finally got dusty enough they had to go.
Try your local farmer’s market to find some good local home grown eggs. Need help finding one try this website: localharvest.org/farmers-markets
Ok but sometimes we just don’t have that option and we find ourselves in the grocery store. I rely on GoodGuide. It would take months to do the background research on every egg company and try and figure out which one is the best. Luckily GoodGuide does the work for us. They don’t have every egg brand out there but they at least give you some good choices to buy. The GoodGuide app rates items (over 200,000 in their database) on three categories, 1. Society, 2. Environmental and 3. Health. If you have never used the app before I highly suggest downloading and scanning some products in the grocery store. It’s a huge help trying to decipher the madness that is the grocery store shelves.
So what does GoodGuide tell you for eggs?
Highest rated is Organic Valley egg whites in the carton – pasteurized. Any of the Organic Valley ones seem to be the highest rating followed by a not so close Horizon Organic brand. The lowest on the list, the ShopRite brand.
So let’s see how I did:
Organic, cage free, omega 3. Not bad? Of course this is not in the GoodGuide system yet but still good to scan because every time you scan they are working hard to do the research and add those products. These were not that expensive either at $3. I try and choose the ones in the middle, not the 99 cent brands but also not the break my bank $6 brands either.
And one more thing – should you buy A or AA? Between A and AA there really isn’t too much difference. AA is actually better quality but A is fine too. Eggs are candled and judged on their interior and exterior quality. For a great summary of the differences of the grading process check out this website: aeb.org/foodservice-professionals/egg-products
Good luck out there and happy egg eating!