My grandma would often tell me how much she enjoyed farm-fresh eggs delivered weekly to her home by the friendly egg-man, who happened to be completely bald, humorously reflecting his trade. He gingerly handed her a confetti of eggs piled in a wicker basket — some speckled, some brown, some turquoise, some white.
Alas, a few years later, the egg-man was shoved under the coop by factory-farmed eggs delivered to the supermarket. The beautiful Technicolors were replaced by white ones only.
Today the egg-man or egg-woman has returned as farm-fresh eggs of different hues (along with local, seasonal and organic produce) are happily delivered to the homes of members of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
Both natural and mainstream supermarkets now offer an abundant selection of eggs, too — different colors, sizes, quantities and types with perplexing labels.
Here's a primer to help demystify the egg world confusion — let's get crackin'!
Color: In the color spectrum of eggs, they're all created nutritionally equal whether brown, blue, or white. The egg hue is simply a manifestation of the feather colors of the hen, and the genetic code of the breed for egg color. Araucanas lay blue eggs, reddish-feathered hens lay brown eggs, white-feathered ones lay white eggs.
Mood: While we're dealing with an even playing field when it comes to egg color, how chicks are reared is another matter. A chicken's lifestyle, including the dwelling, food, and access to outdoors will greatly affect the quality of her eggs. After all, a happy, healthy, free-spirited hen produces better eggs.
Here's the lay of the land to help you decide which to buy:
• Conventional eggs are the lowest quality from both nutritional and taste standpoints. These chicks live in cramped commercial factories, truly cooped up (in a space about the area of an iPad), fed GMO-laced grains like corn and soy, and sometimes hormones to ratchet-up egg production.
• Chickens are natural omnivores, hunting and pecking their favorite treats including bugs, grub, grass, weeds, and seeds giving them a balanced, protein-rich diet to produce nutrient-dense eggs. So when the carton label boasts vegetarian-fed, it's really code for "sadly cooped indoors eating a grain-based, industrial diet."
• Cage-free is another misleading concept, conjuring an image of leisure and free rein. But cage-free only means the chicks aren't housed in cages, rather packed into indoor, multi-leveled structures, and likely stepping on coop poop scattered throughout the aviary.
• Free-range gives hens the option to go outdoors, much like a doggy door that leads to a designated area. Some may choose to wander outside, while others more timid remain indoors. Read labels judiciously to confirm the brand's practices.
• Organic eggs come from chicks fed a pristine diet free of pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, synthetic fertilizers and GMOs.
• Hens fed a diet rich in flaxseeds and fish oils lay Omega-3 fortified eggs. While pasture-raised eggs are truly the gold standard laid from chickens raised in stress-free, bucolic pastures, basking in sunlight and fresh air, spreading their wings, stretching their legs, and indulging in their favorite bug treats.
Eggs are nature's near perfect package. The whites (albumen) provide a rich protein store, while the yolks are one of the few foods containing a natural supply of Vitamin D for strong bones, along with Vitamin K2 for healthy blood clotting, choline from the B-complex family to dial up memory and focus, and biotin to boost hair, skin and nail health.
There's more. Those golden orbs are packed with Vitamin A for the eyes, antioxidant E, and anti-inflammatory essential fatty acids (Omega-3s and 6s) to amp up immunity, and ease creaky joints. Where possible, buy pasture-raised or organic to get the most from this humble superfood.
Recipe: Muffin Tin Frittata
• Ingredients: 10 eggs (pasture-raised or organic); 4 ounces mushrooms (your choice), chopped; 1/2 small red onion, diced; 1/2 cup broccoli florets, chopped; 1/2 red pepper, diced; 1/3 cup heavy cream or plain Greek yoghurt; 1/3 cup shredded cheese (mozzarella, Parmesan, your choice); 1/2 teaspoon Herbes de Provence; 1 tablespoon grapeseed or avocado oil (more for greasing pan).
• Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 8-cup muffin pan with parchment paper squares or grease with oil. In skillet, heat oil on medium. Sauté vegetables until tender.
In large mixing bowl, beat eggs, cheese, cream or yoghurt. Blend vegetables and seasonings. Ladle egg mixture into muffin pan, filling hollows three-quarters full. Bake 20 minutes, or until golden and firm.