Eggs – these are a foodstuff that goes in and out of favor depending on the current state of nutritional research. Eggs are also a very natural and simple food. However, there is quite a bit to learn about eggs. In this Cooking Tip, I want to start to tackle this topic and increase your Egg IQ. Because there is so much to learn about eggs, I will start in this Tip and finish in a subsequent one or two tips. You will recall I already wrote a Tip about Egg White Foams. If you did not get this one and wish to, just email me.
I want to start with egg terminology. Do you buy whatever eggs are the cheapest or do you spend a bit more for cage free? As you are deciding how much you want to spend, be aware that some of the egg terms can be a bit misleading. Here are just a few of the main terms.
Cage Free – To be considered cage free, the hens are allowed to roost and socialize freely in a room or open area. They are not confined to a cage but this open area may be in a barn or poultry house rather than outside. Over 90% of the eggs found on our tables are from chickens raised in caged environments.
Free Range – In this case, the hens have access to the “outdoors”. “Outdoors” only means there is no roof. The area they have to range may be grass but could also be dirt or concrete.
Pasture Raised – This term implies that the hens actually spend time outdoors on grass and eat a diet partly, if not entirely, of bugs and plants. I think this is probably what most of us think of we think of free ranging or cage free chickens. However, we can now see that this may not be true.
Organic – For eggs to be labeled organic, the hens must be raised according to USDA National Organic Program guidelines. The hens must be allowed to range freely and given access to the outdoors. They must be fed an organic diet and, if they do not have access to a pasture area, they must be provided with sprouted grains or fresh plants on a daily basis.
Egg Dating – No matter which type of eggs you decide to purchase, you want them to be as fresh as possible. If you can buy them directly from a farmer or someone who raises backyard chickens, you can ask and be assured of their freshness. If you buy them from a supermarket, you have to rely on dates on the carton but what do they mean? You may see a “Sell By” or “Best By” or even an “Expiration” date. If the carton has a USDA shield on it and shows an Expiration date, that date cannot exceed 30 days beyond the pack date. If instead there is a “Best By” date, it can be no more than 45 days after the pack date.
Another date is the Julian date. This represents the day of the year that the eggs were packed – from 1 to 365. Here is an example from a carton I bought on March 31. They have a “Sell By” date of April 11. Their Julian date is 072, which is March 13. So, when I bought my eggs, it was 18 days after they were packed and I was told it was safe to continue to sell them for another 11 days — 29 days after packing.
Egg color – The color of the egg is determined by the breed of the hen. If you care to look at the hen’s ear, you can tell the color of the egg. If it has a white or light spot, that hen will lay white eggs. We have confirmed this as one of our hens has a bluish-green ear spot and she lays bluish-green eggs. Furthermore, there is no nutritional difference between different colored eggs.
Blood spots – This is one of the most misunderstood findings of an egg. Many people think a blood spot means the egg was fertilized and should be thrown away. According to the Egg Safety Center, “blood spots are caused by the rupture of a blood vessel on the yolk surface when it is being formed or by a similar accident in the wall of the oviduct in the hen’s reproductive tract.” As long as the egg is cooked properly, it is safe to eat.
Refrigeration – In the US, eggs are always refrigerated. However, in Europe, they are often sold at room temperature. The difference has to do with washing of the eggs. The USDA requires that all eggs sold in the US from farms with at least 3000 hens to be washed & sanitized. This removes the coating that is naturally found on eggs. In Europe, eggs are not required to be washed and thus, retain this coating. This allows them to be sold at room temperature.
Grading of eggs – Grading of eggs is actually voluntary and companies must pay to have the USDA grade their eggs. When grading, the characteristics that are looked at are the quality of the shell, white & yolk. The eggs can be graded from AA to A to B. The eggs that have the cleanest shells, the firmest whites and tallest-standing yolks get an AA rating. Grade B eggs may have a stain, bumps or an uneven shape. The white is watery and the yolk will be enlarged and flattened. Grade A eggs fall in between. If you want to know more specifics, here is a link to the USDA Grading Manual.
All are fine to eat but if appearance is most important, opt for AA. You will easily find both AA and A eggs in the supermarket while Grade B eggs are used commercially in powdered egg products or liquid eggs. I have never seen Grade B in my supermarkets but I must say I have not looked specifically for them. If you have seen them in your stores, let me know
Eggs from our own backyard chickens
There is much more to eggs such as how to test for freshness, size and how to get that silly shell off a hard-boiled egg without craters! Stay tuned for Part 2.