The Art of Reading an Egg Carton

Remember back in the day when you could just walk into the grocery store and grab a carton of eggs? Packed in yellow, (sometimes pink or blue) styrofoam cartons, eggs were just…well…eggs. Now? *shake my head* NOW, our food system has been so manipulated that we even have to decipher egg cartons just to know what we are eating. According to Bon Appetit, here are a few explained terms to help you de-mystify your 12 pack.

  • Natural: Tells you almost nothing; every raw chicken egg is “natural.” Keep reading the label
  • Cage-Free: Means the hens were not confined to cages. But many cage-free birds never leave crowded barns. Similarly, “free-range” hens have outdoor access, but that doesn’t mean they get much past the exit.
  • Organic: The first choice of the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen. This indicates cage-free, free-range hens that eat an organic vegetarian diet. Free of hormones and antibiotics.
  • Pastured: The best choice, but pricey and harder to find. Birds can roam outdoors to forage for insects and grass, which produces healthier (and often tastier) eggs.
  • Large: The size you’ll need for most recipes. Extra-large could throw off the ratio when baking.

I am fortunate enough to live in an area where several people raise their own chickens locally and sell beautiful eggs (like the ones pictured above.) Upon appearance alone, you can see the color difference between a “farm” egg and a conventional egg. The yolk is usually much larger, thicker in texture and richer in flavor. Can you tell which egg pictured below is a local, “farm” egg? Yup, the one at the top. The yolk itself gives it away.

Another benefit to “farm” eggs is that you always know they are fresh. By the time eggs are laid, packaged and shipped to your grocery store, how old are they? I know sometimes eggs will hide in the back of the fridge for a while and you become unsure if they are good or not. Here’s a simple test: Fill up the sink with water. Drop an egg into the water. If it sinks, it’s fresh (perfect for poaching and souffles.) If it stays submerged with it’s wide end up, it’s older but good for most uses. If it floats, toss it (it’s bad or even rotten.) Also, if you do have eggs that are “older,” boil them. Peels come off much easier when you use non-fresh eggs.

I will recommend…if you are looking for a local supplier, don’t be afraid to ask how the chickens are raised. Since they eggs are non-pasteurized, you want to make sure the chickens have a clean living environment. Also, ask about the diet of the hens. Since “you are what you eat,” be sure they are getting properly fed. If you plan on using eggs raw in items such as aioli or “runny” eggs, be sure to remember that raw egg is not recommended for infants, the elderly, pregnant women, or people with weakened immune systems. You will want to use pasteurized eggs in products for those people.

Another tip about “farm” eggs…when using them in baking or cooking, be sure to break them into a clear container before adding them to other ingredients. Since they are unpasteurized, they could be fertilized. I have only had this happen one time in my entire life and I had to throw out my entire batter. Most likely, you will never see this, but take the extra step to be safe.

Doesn’t it just make sense to want to eat eggs from a happy hen that leisurely pecks around the coop eating what it’s supposed to eat? The idea of consuming eggs from a chicken “factory”, a place where hens are crammed into cages and fed whatever is put in front of them, grosses me out to a point where I would give up eggs all together. Know what you are eating and make the best decision.

-Some Information taken from: Lalli Music, Carla. “The Incredible Egg.” Bon Appetit April 2012: 68-78


4 Responses to The Art of Reading an Egg Carton
  1. Stradford Stone II
    March 27, 2012 | 3:55 PM

    I am a Chicago dweller. Can you suggest some places to get “farm” eggs?

    • Toni
      March 27, 2012 | 4:07 PM

      I am actually not a city dweller…but I do have foodie friends that are. I will do some asking and let you know what I find. :)

    • Toni
      March 27, 2012 | 4:15 PM

      Okay…It’s been suggested that you can find them at: Green Grocer Chicago, Dill Pickle Co-op, Green City & Logan Square Farmer’s Market, Butcher & Larder and Publican Quality Meats (though that one wasn’t highly recommended) Hope this helps! Will let you know if I find more.

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