Eggs are among the healthiest foods a person can eat. Full of essential vitamins and proteins, they provide us with many nutritional benefits. That said, are farm-fresh eggs truly different than the ones you can find in the supermarket? Let’s investigate.
Differences in Flavor
Most farmers will tell you their farm-fresh 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 come from knowing how the eggs were collected and how the hens were raised rather 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 the human body’s day-to-day functions and help to prevent several chronic diseases. Why do small-farm and free-range eggs have more fatty acids? Such chickens eat things such as bugs, leafy greens, corn and flowers—ingredients absent from the diet of caged hens.
The vitamins in eggs are all extremely beneficial to the human diet. Many people have a vitamin-D deficiency, though they might 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 farm-fresh and store-bought eggs have cholesterol, backyard eggs contain less. Most of the cholesterol in eggs is considered “good” cholesterol that doesn’t cause the health problems that “bad” cholesterol does. Cholesterol is an important part of humans’ diet. It helps us maintain calcium and phosphorous levels in our bloodstreams.
Treatment of Egg-Laying Chickens
If you raise chickens or know a farmer with a small flock, you know your eggs were humanely produced. Most industrial egg farms keep chickens in small cages for life. The hens never leave the coop and barely have room to turn around, let alone 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” are guaranteed to come from birds with outdoor access and the space to walk around in their enclosures. No carton designation guarantees that 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
If you keep a flock and collect your own eggs, you know how long the eggs sit on your counter before you cook them. Supermarket eggs take one to three days to reach the store. They can sit on the shelf as long as 30 days before they’re sold. The USDA recommends consuming eggs within five weeks if they’re refrigerated, so a supermarket egg might have only a week of optimum freshness when you purchase it. People can easily distinguish the difference in flavor between fresh eggs and ones that are weeks old. Thus, buying older eggs might lead people to believe store-bought eggs do not taste as good as farm-fresh eggs.
If you raise your own chickens and don’t wash your eggs before storing, the eggs can stay on the countertop at room temperature until you’re ready to use them. The protective bloom is still present. If you do wash your eggs before storage, however, refrigerate them before using them. Also, label your eggs as you collect them, so you know which are freshest.
Overall Food Safety
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.