Eggs are one of the healthiest foods you can eat. Full of essential vitamins and proteins, they provide us with many nutritional benefits, but is there really a difference between farm-fresh eggs and the ones you find in the supermarket? Let’s investigate.
Differences In Flavor
Ask any farmer and they’ll tell you that their homegrown eggs are richer and better-tasting than the supermarket variety. Studies, however, don’t demonstrate this flavor difference. In blind taste tests, store-bought eggs and farm-fresh eggs are barely distinguishable by flavor. The belief that homegrown eggs are more savory seems to stem more from the knowledge of how the eggs were collected and the hens were raised than any measurable taste differences.
Nutritional Value Comparisons
The real benefits of free-range eggs are in their nutritional value. Studies show several advantages to farm-fresh eggs, including:
- less cholesterol
- less saturated fat
- increased vitamins A, E and D
- more omega-3 fatty acids
- more beta carotene
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to our body’s day to day functions and help to prevent several chronic diseases. The nutrients to increase the amount of fatty acids in eggs come from chickens eating things like bugs, leafy greens, corn and flowers—ingredients completely vacant from a caged hen’s diet.
The vitamins in eggs are all extremely beneficial to your diet. Many people have a vitamin-D deficiency, though they may not know it, and can suffer the health issues associated with this deficiency. Pasture-raised eggs are widely regarded as one of the best food sources for vitamin D.
While both farm-fresh and store-bought eggs have cholesterol, backyard eggs contain lower amounts, and most of the cholesterol in eggs is considered “good” cholesterol that will not have the same detrimental health effects as “bad” cholesterol. Cholesterol is actually a very important part of our diet and helps us maintain calcium and phosphorous levels in our bloodstreams.
Treatment Of The Chickens That Lay Your Eggs
If you raise your own chickens or know a local farmer with a small flock, you can rest assured that your eggs were humanely produced. Most commercial-industry egg farms keep chickens in small cages for their entire lifetime. The hens never leave the coop and barely have room to turn around, let alone be able to demonstrate the normal behaviors of a chicken. Even commercial eggs you find that are labeled “cage-free” are usually produced in a warehouse with hundreds of chickens crammed together and little natural light or fresh feed. According to the Humane Society of the United States, only egg cartons marked “free range,” “pasture raised” and/or “USDA Certified Organic” can actually be guaranteed to come from birds with outdoor access and the space to walk around in their enclosures. No carton designation guarantees store-bought eggs did not come from birds that have suffered from mistreatments, such as beak-cutting, starvation to force molting, or other dietary restrictions.
Chickens are more naturally inclined and proven to be healthier when able to forage for themselves and participate in normal chicken activities, such as dust bathing and nightly roosting. If you want to know more about how your farm-fresh eggs were raised, talk to the farmer who raised them for more information about their husbandry practices.
Storage And Shelf Life Of Eggs
Something you can be certain of if you keep a flock and collect your own eggs is you’ll know how long the eggs sat on your counter before you cooked them. Supermarket eggs take between one and three days to reach the store, and can sit on the shelf for up to 30 days before being purchased. The USDA recommends consuming eggs within five weeks if refrigerated, so a supermarket egg may only have a week of optimum freshness when you purchase it. It can be much easier to distinguish the difference in flavor between fresh eggs and ones that are weeks old, and buying older eggs may lead to the belief that store-bought eggs do not taste as good.
If you raise your own chickens and don’t wash your eggs before storing, they can stay on the countertop at room temperature until you’re ready to use them because the protective bloom hasn’t been removed. If you do wash your eggs before storage, however, be sure to refrigerate them before using. Also be sure to label your eggs as you collect them, so you know which are the freshest.
Overall Food Safety
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The advantage of knowing the history of farm fresh eggs comes into play again in their overall food safety. One of the main things consumers worry about with eggs is the possibility of a salmonella infection. Salmonella occurs in eggs laid by an infected hen, and unfortunately, a hen may not present any symptoms of the disease while still being a carrier.
Scientists agree that the living conditions of caged hens greatly increases their risk of contracting salmonella, making backyard eggs much safer to eat than their store bought counterparts. If you are concerned about salmonella in your home flock, you can also make the decision to have a veterinarian test them and know for certain that the flock is disease-free.
While there may not be a discernible flavor difference in eggs from your farm or your grocery store, there are some noticeable effects when you use those eggs in your cooking and baking. The increased nutritional value of homegrown eggs also means that their yolks are fuller in color and that their whites are stiffer and hold together better. While your finished cake or tortilla may not have a taste difference, the experience of cooking with farm fresh eggs is different and usually preferable.
It is true that homegrown eggs and supermarket eggs might not have a noticeable difference in taste, but the satisfaction in collecting your own eggs gives them a certain zest, and although the flavors may be the same, an egg fresh from the farm will always be more nutritional and healthy for the consumer.
About the Author: Kirsten Lie-Nielsen is a freelance writer and small scale farmer from Woolwich, Maine. When not cultivating a growing garden and tending to her geese and other animals, she maintains Day’s Ferry Organics, hoping to help others learn about self reliance and simple living.