Many people have a preference when it comes to egg color.
Some people believe brown eggs are healthier or more natural, while others feel that white eggs are cleaner or simply taste better.
But are the differences between brown and white eggs more than shell-deep?
This article explores whether one type of egg is truly healthier or tastier.
Eggs come in many colors
Chicken eggs can come in different colors, and it’s common to find both brown and white eggs at the supermarket.
However, many people don’t know what causes eggs to have different colors.
The answer is quite simple — egg color depends on the breed of the chicken. For example, White Leghorn chickens lay white-shelled eggs, while Plymouth Rocks and Rhode Island Reds lay brown-shelled eggs.
Some breeds of chicken, such as the Araucana, Ameraucana, Dongxiang, and Lushi, even lay blue or blue-green eggs.
The different eggshell colors come from pigments the hens produce. The main pigment in brown eggshells is called protoporphyrin IX. It’s made from heme, the compound that gives blood its red color.
The main pigment found in blue eggshells is called biliverdin, which also comes from heme. It’s the same pigment that sometimes gives bruises a blue-green color.
Eggshells may also vary in color among the same breed of chickens, depending on genetic dominance among individual birds.
But while genetics is the main factor that determines egg color, other factors can also influence it.
For example, as hens that lay brown eggs age, they tend to lay larger and lighter-colored eggs.
The hen’s environment, diet, and level of stress may also affect shell color to some extent.
These factors can make the shade lighter or darker but not necessarily change the color itself. The breed is still the main factor when it comes to egg color.
Summary: Chicken eggs can be brown, white, or even blue-green. The color of an egg is determined by the breed of the hen that lays it.
Are brown eggs healthier than white eggs?
Often, people who prefer brown eggs do so because they believe brown eggs are healthier and more natural than white eggs.
However, the truth is that all eggs are nutritionally very similar, regardless of their size, grade, or color.
Both brown and white eggs are healthy foods. A typical egg contains lots of vitamins, minerals, and high-quality protein, all wrapped up into less than 80 calories.
However, scientists have compared eggs with brown shells to those with white shells to see whether there’s any difference. Several studies have found that shell color does not significantly affect egg quality or composition.
This means that the color of an egg’s shell doesn’t have much to do with how healthy it is. The only real difference is the pigment in the shell.
However, other factors can affect the nutritional content of an egg.
For example, the hen’s environment can have a major effect. Eggs from hens that are allowed to roam in the sunshine contain 3–4 times the amount of vitamin D you’d find in eggs from conventionally raised hens.
The type of feed a hen eats can also affect the nutrient content of her eggs.
Hens fed a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids produce eggs that contain much higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than normal. The same effect has been found with vitamin D when chickens eat vitamin-D-enriched feed.
Summary: There is no nutritional difference between brown and white eggs. However, a hen’s diet and environment can affect an egg’s nutrition.
Does one color of egg taste better?
Some people swear that brown eggs taste better, while others prefer the taste of white eggs.
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But just as with nutritional content, there’s no real difference between the taste of brown- and white-shelled eggs.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all eggs taste the same.
While the shell color doesn’t make a difference, other factors such as the breed of chicken, type of feed, freshness, and cooking method may affect the way it tastes.
The diet of a home-raised hen is not the same as that of a conventionally raised hen, which may also affect egg flavor.
Additionally, the longer the egg is stored, the more likely it is to develop an off-flavor. Storing eggs at a stable, low temperature, like in the refrigerator, can help preserve their flavor for longer.
These reasons may be why some people believe that eggs from home-raised chickens taste better than those from conventionally raised chickens.
Backyard eggs don’t go through processing and shipping like conventional ones do, so they may end up on your plate more quickly than eggs bought from the store. Because they’re fresher, they may taste better.
The way an egg is cooked may affect its flavor, too.
One study looked at how fish oil, which is used in chicken feed to raise omega-3 levels, changed the flavor of eggs. It found that scrambled eggs from hens fed fish-oil-enriched feed and those fed conventional feed tasted the same.
However, when boiled, the eggs from hens fed fish-oil-enriched feed had more of a sulfur-like or off-flavor.
So, while many factors may affect egg flavor, shell color does not.
Summary: Brown and white eggs generally taste the same. However, the taste of eggs can be affected by their freshness, the cooking method, and the diet of the hen that laid them.
Why are brown eggs more expensive?
Even though brown and white eggs seem to be the same by all measures other than color, brown eggs still tend to cost more at the store.
This fact has led many people to believe that brown eggs are healthier or higher quality than white ones.
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However, in the past, brown eggs cost more because brown-laying hens tended to be larger and lay fewer eggs than white-laying hens. Therefore, brown eggs needed to be sold at a higher price to make up for the extra costs.
Today, brown-laying hens have nearly the same production costs as white-laying hens. Nevertheless, their eggs still tend to have a higher price tag.
This may be because specialty eggs, such as free-range or organic, tend to be brown rather than white.
Summary: Brown eggs used to cost more because brown-laying hens produced less and weighed more. While that’s no longer true, brown eggs still come with a higher price tag.
If the egg color doesn’t matter, what does?
Color isn’t an important factor. So what should you take into account when buying eggs?
Here’s a quick look at the different types available and what their labels mean.
The term “natural” is not regulated in the United States because it cannot be defined.
Eggs labeled “naturally raised” or “all natural” are no different than any other egg.
Eggs that are certified as organic in the United States and European Union have come from chickens given only organic and non-GMO feed.
They must also have year-round access to the outdoors.
In addition, they have not been given antibiotics or hormones, though hormones are never permitted for laying hens.
The organic label means antibiotics may only be used when medically necessary. Otherwise, low doses of antibiotics are often given via feed and water, which can contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Currently, no evidence shows that organic eggs are more nutritious than conventional eggs.
Still, certified organic hens’ quality of life is probably better, and their greater access to sunshine probably increases their eggs’ vitamin D content.
When the term “cage-free” is applied to eggs, it may be misleading.
While conventionally raised hens in the United States are housed indoors in very small, individual cages, cage-free hens are housed in an open building or room.
However, the conditions for cage-free hens are often still very crowded, with no access to the outdoors.
Cage-free living may be slightly better for the hen. However, in terms of nutrition, cage-free eggs are probably no healthier than conventional eggs.
The label “free-range” signifies eggs that come from hens housed with some form of continuous access to the outdoors.
This ideally provides a better quality of life for the hens.
It may also increase the nutritional quality of the eggs, since hens that are exposed to sunlight produce eggs with much higher vitamin D levels.
Omega-3-enriched eggs come from hens fed a diet enriched with healthy omega-3 fats.
Therefore, the omega-3 content of the egg is much higher than normal.
Omega-3-enriched eggs provide an alternative source of omega-3 fats, which are traditionally very limited in the human diet. Choosing omega-3-enriched eggs may offer some health benefits.
Recent studies show that subjects consuming omega-3-enriched eggs every day experienced lowered blood triglycerides and blood pressure.
Another older study found that consuming two omega-3-enriched eggs every day for 6 weeks increased the omega-3 fat content of the breast milk of breastfeeding mothers.
Overall, omega-3-enriched eggs may offer some additional health benefits over the average egg.
Backyard and local
Eggs that come from backyard flocks or those bought directly from small, local farmers are likely to be the freshest and usually come from hens that live in more natural environments with plenty of access to sunshine.
Additionally, the diets of backyard hens may be different from conventionally raised hens, and this may affect the nutritional content of their eggs.
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This is especially true if the hens have access to grass. A 2010 study found that hens fed grass along with conventional feed have been found to produce eggs that have higher levels of omega-3 fats and vitamin E.
However, backyard flocks are not subjected to the same hygiene regulations as commercial flocks, so be sure to buy local or backyard eggs only from sources that you know follow good care and hygiene practices.
Summary: The color of an egg isn’t important, but there are many other factors to consider when selecting eggs.
Eggs come in many colors, depending on the breed of chicken.
However, there’s no nutritional difference between brown and white eggs. In the end, the only real difference is shell color and maybe price.
Nevertheless, other factors do affect the flavor and nutrition of eggs, including the hen’s diet and housing conditions.
So the next time you reach for a carton of eggs, make sure you consider these other factors, as shell color won’t tell you the whole story.