Red Wicket Market Farm is a small farm 25 minutes from downtown Columbus, Ohio, near Slate Run Metropark. Breeding Black Ameraucanas and Black Copper Marans to the Standard of Perfection, as well as some Olive Eggers just for fun.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Egg Myths

There are a lot of myths out there about eggs and chickens. This week, I'd like to let you know the myth vs. the reality when it comes to eggs.

Myth: Blue eggs contain less cholesterol than white eggs. Also, brown eggs are healthier than white eggs.

Reality: There's no real difference in nutrition between different colors of eggs when the hens are eating the same diet. It's diet that influences the nutritional content of eggs, not shell color. That being said, check out this exciting finding from Mother Earth News: Pastured eggs are better for you than layer house eggs! Pastured eggs--eggs from hens that go outdoors and eat greens and bugs--contain:
  • 1⁄3 less cholesterol
  • 1⁄4 less saturated fat
  • 2⁄3 more vitamin A
  • 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
  • 3 times more vitamin E
  • 7 times more beta carotene
  • 6-7 times more vitamin D 
This is awesome, exciting news!

Myth: Blue or green chicken eggs are not natural--they are dyed, or caused by adding chemicals to the feed.

Reality: Our blue and green eggs are not dyed, are not caused by feed additives, and are completely natural. Some breeds of chickens just naturally lay blue or eggs, in the same way that a robin lays a blue egg. Some of our eggs even look a bit pink. There are only two basic colors of eggs--blue and white. Brown eggs are white eggs with a brown coating. Green eggs are a blue egg with a brown coating. You can often see the underlying color of an eggshell by looking carefully at the inside of the shell under the membrane. 

Myth: A red spot on the yolk or a brown spot in the white means that an egg is fertile, or that the egg has bacteria inside.

Reality: "Blood spots" and "meat spots" are actually completely normal, and unrelated to whether the egg is fertile. A blood spot is caused when a blood vessel ruptures during egg formation, and a meat spot is a similar accident in the oviduct.

You are more likely to see spots in our eggs than in "store eggs" for four reasons:
  1. Big layer houses use machines to check eggs for blood and meat spots, although they can't catch them all. That does not mean that you don't eat these eggs, however--eggs with blood and meat spots are used in commercial products like baked goods.
  2. Hens in large layer houses are considered "spent" after just one year. We keep our hens longer, and older hens are more likely to lay eggs with blood and meat spots.
  3. Meat spots are more common in brown-egg laying hens.
  4. Blood spots tend to fade over time. A very bright red blood spot is actually in indicator of a very fresh egg, and our eggs are often fresher than those you get in the store.

Eggs containing blood and meat spots are completely safe to eat, and no different nutritionally than any other egg. If you find them distasteful, remove them with the tip of a knife before cooking the egg.

Myth: A fertilized egg contains baby chicken bits.

Reality: The difference between a fertile egg and an nonfertile one is very subtle. When eggs are laid, they are in a state of suspended development. It requires many hours of high temperatures--over 98 degrees F, the temperature of a hen sitting on them--to cause the egg to begin developing into a baby chick. This definitely does not happen in the refrigerator or at room temperature! Most of our eggs are fertile, but some may not be. It's totally dependent on the roosters.

Here are photos of a fertile egg vs. an unfertilized one from the website Backyard Chickens:

This egg is unfertilized. The white spot on the yolk is called the "germinal disc," and all eggs have them.

This egg is fertile. See how the germinal disc has a slight bulls-eye appearance?
That's it. That small change in the germinal disc is the only difference between a fertile egg and an unfertilized one.

Myth: A cloudy egg white means the egg is going bad.

Reality: Nothing could be further from the truth! A cloudy egg white means that there is a lot of carbon dioxide present in the white. Carbon dioxide dissipates quickly after the egg is laid, so a cloudy white is an indicator of a very fresh egg.

Myth: A dark yellow yolk means that the hen has access to pasture. 

Reality: Yolk color is affected by the hen's diet. Commercial layer houses, especially those that are advertizing "healthier" eggs, will feed marigold petals and other feed additives to produce darker yolks even though their hens never leave the building.

Our yolks are darker yellow than average store-bought eggs because our hens run around outside eating greens. The more greens and bugs she eats, the yellower the yolk--but two of our eggs side-by-side will have two different colored yolks because of variations in each individual hen. Yolk color is also affected by the time of year. In the winter, hens eat more layer feed and their eggs have paler yolks. In spring, it's possible for a hen to gorge herself on greens and lay eggs with slightly green yolks! 

The following things are not myths, exactly, but they are good things to know:

  • Some eggs will have spots or speckles on them that can be rubbed off. These are just a neat variation in egg color. The spots on an egg are applied almost like inkjets as the eggs is being laid. Since the color is on top of the egg and not embedded in the shell, it can be rubbed off. We think the speckled eggs are neat, and wash them carefully to preserve the spots. 
  • Lines around the middle of the shell or a discolored spot on an egg are not cracks. They are called "cage marks." If the hens were in cages, they'd be caused by the wire of the cages. Cage marks on our eggs are usually less regular, because they are caused by the straw in the nests.
  • Some eggs will have rough bumps on the shell. These bumps are just little calcium deposits, and don't affect the egg.
  • The white strands inside an egg are called chalazae, and are twisted strands of egg white that anchor the yolk in place. 
  • Hard-boiled eggs may be difficult to peel if they are very fresh. This is because an egg shrinks inside during storage, which pulls the inner membrane away from the inside of the shell. If you want easier-to-peel hard-boiled eggs, store the eggs in the fridge for one or two weeks before cooking them.

Next week, we'll look at myths about chickens, including: Is a rooster necessary to produce eggs? Stay tuned!