Everything You Need to Know When Buying Eggs

Not all eggs are created equal.

Buying eggs may sound like a simple task, but the sheer range of options can make picking up a dozen eggs feel daunting. From the size to the color to the grade to even the packaging, choosing which type of eggs you want in your fridge each week can feel like a project more than just an item to check off your grocery list.

To prevent refrigerator-aisle panic, read up on all the questions you need to ask yourself when purchasing eggs at the supermarket—or farmers market, for that matter—to ensure you find the eggs that best suit your needs.

What's the difference between cage-free, free-range, and pasture-raised eggs?

Think of the difference between these three as the human equivalent of living in a studio apartment or sprawling estate. Eggs from cage-free hens are laid from birds not constricted to cages, though they may still be kept in crowded conditions indoors, and never venture outside. Free-range is a step up, meaning that the hens have access to the outdoors, though the USDA doesn't specify how much time or space a hen needs outdoors for its eggs to be considered "free-range." Pasture-raised is the most luxurious of all, with hens free to roam open land, often resulting in a healthier hen with a more nutrient-dense diet (grass and bugs, yum).

Eggs from hens with more space are typically more expensive, since, you know, real estate costs, but you get what you pay for—the quality is often tastier, and the yolks can be higher in vitamins and have a brighter yellow hue.

types of eggs
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What are organic and "certified humane" eggs?

"'Certified humane' means the chickens' environment and treatment are designed to encourage natural hen behaviors," explains George Weaver IV, fourth-generation egg farmer and co-founder of Utopihen Farms Pasture Raised Eggs. "Our chickens enjoy life in small family flocks and roam freely during the day—grazing on grassy pastures, pecking on plants, worms, and insects, and living as hens should. Weaver IV explains that the time spent out in the fields, with plenty of sunshine and space, results in less stress for the chickens.

While the USDA doesn't have specific standards for "certified humane" eggs—that's currently a marketing term—there are requirements for eggs to be considered organic. Organic eggs must be from chickens that are not in cages and do not eat food processed with fertilizers or pesticides.

What's the difference between brown eggs and white eggs?

Eggshell color depends on the breed of the hen laying the egg, not the diet, environment, or other factors. Both white and brown eggs are natural, as are other grayscale hues. There is absolutely no difference in taste or quality of an egg based on shell color. White chickens often lay white eggs, and brown, reddish chickens have more pigment in their eggshells.

What are soy-free eggs?

You're not going to crack open an egg and find a cube of tofu, but those with a soy allergy may not be able to tolerate eggs from chickens who feed mostly on soy (a cheap feed option for egg farmers). A soy-free diet is natural for hens, and package labeling will help those with soy intolerances avoid eggs from soy-consuming layers.

Does egg size matter?

Egg size can depend on a variety of reasons, like a chicken's breed or diet, but the most significant factor is age, with older hens laying larger eggs. While egg size doesn't impact quality, it can make a difference if you're baking or preparing a recipe that uses a lot of eggs, says a spokesperson from Austin's Vital Farms.

The inside of a jumbo egg typically weighs about 2.5 ounces and a small egg is only about 1.5 ounces, so the difference can add up quickly in a recipe. Eggs in a single carton should usually be close in size, but there can be some variance. Eggs are graded by total carton weight, so occasionally you will see smaller eggs in with larger ones, but they should never all be small.

Are eggs dairy?

If you've been secretly wondering if eggs are dairy, you're not alone. The fortunate answer, for dairy-intolerant egg-lovers, is that no, eggs are not a dairy product. They are, however, an animal by-product, making them incompatible with vegan diets.

What's the best way to store eggs at home?

Most refrigerators have an egg storage space in the door, but this isn't the best place to keep them, according to Vital Farms. Eggs are best stored in the carton they were purchased in, inside the main area of the refrigerator, where the temperature is most consistent. This is preferable over the fridge door, which opens and closes and can fluctuate in temperature and moisture levels.

Fresh eggs typically last about six weeks in the fridge but can last even longer. To test if your egg is rotten, gently add it to a tall glass of water—if it sinks, you're good, but if it floats, toss it.

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