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The Difference Between Pastured, Organic, and Free Range Eggs

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Kim is a holistic health coach and a toxic-free lifestyle consultant. She obtained her studies from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.

What exactly are free-range, cage-free, organic, or pastured eggs, and how are they different?

What exactly are free-range, cage-free, organic, or pastured eggs, and how are they different?

With so many different labels of eggs, such as “organic” and “free range,” it can get a bit confusing as to which ones taste better and which ones are healthier. And then there are the ones without any marketing claim aside from the big stamp "Jumbo Eggs."

This article will help you understand the different labels in the supermarket.

Growing up, I thought eggs were simply… eggs. My first introduction to fresh, organic, pastured eggs was from my fiancé’s aunt. I picked her up from the bus station and noticed her gripping a box firmly but carefully. Of course, I was curious as to what type of goodies she brought from Vegas, her hometown. “They’re fresh eggs! My chickens had fresh eggs yesterday!” I thought, You have chickens? Like, pet chickens?! And the eggs… they came from your chickens?!

When we got home, we immediately fried a few and scrambled the rest. Oh my goodness… let me tell you, I have been missing out. Of course they tasted like eggs, but with a special “oomph.” That night, I counted eggs instead of sheep before falling asleep.

Now, I raise my own chickens for eggs. Pastured eggs are richer in color and flavor, with a deep orange yolk. They are the best choice and will give you more bang for your buck. They have more nutrients than conventional eggs! They may be different in size and color, but the one thing that remains consistent is the pleasant surprise that wakes up my taste buds.

Can you tell which yolk has more nutrients? The egg on the top is a conventional egg. The one on the bottom is a pastured egg.

Can you tell which yolk has more nutrients? The egg on the top is a conventional egg. The one on the bottom is a pastured egg.

So What's the Difference?

What Are Conventional Eggs?

Chicken farming is all about profits. Don’t be fooled by clever marketing phrases on the cartons. A box of eggs with a picture of a pretty chicken frolicking on a green grassy field with the wording, “Fresh Eggs” is tricky and deceiving. It translates to “Miserable chickens: buy these eggs so we can make more money while you eat a low-nutrient egg.”

Most chickens are raised in factories, where they are crowded together in a very confined area, trampling on each other. Some are kept in individual cages with no room to move. It might have never crossed your mind, but this is a potential breeding condition for bacteria and disease.

If any chickens die, well by golly, there goes the farmer’s profit. So what do they do to prevent that from happening? They stuff antibiotics into their systems, which means some of these antibiotics can end up in your eggs. Hormones can also be given to boost egg production. It makes sense from a profit perspective, since more laid eggs equal more profit, but it's not good for either the chicken or the egg.

What Are "Pastured" Eggs?

Pastured eggs are laid by chickens that are raised on the green pasture, with access to sun, bugs, space, and fresh air. The chickens eat a natural omnivorous diet full of bugs, the way Mother Nature wanted them to do.

What Does "Cage-Free" Mean?

Cage-free systems are better than conventional but still not the best because, instead of in cages, chickens are kept in crowded hen houses. This means they are trampling around in their own feces all day. They have no room to move or even spread their wings, no fresh air, and no sunlight.

What About "Free Range"?

You might think "free range" means free, but think again. You might visualize a beautiful landscape of hens wandering on a bed of green grass under the sun but, in fact, "free range" is not much different from "cage free," with the exception of a tiny door or ramp that leads to another tiny area. They must have "access" to the outdoors to be labeled free range but, with thousands of chickens confined in one area, do you think they can actually use that door?

"Organic" Eggs?

Organically raised chickens must be fed food that is free of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, hormones, and antibiotics. That's good news, right? Not necessarily. These hens still may not have access to everything they'd eat if they were in a pasture. However, they are your next best choice if you don't have access to pastured eggs.

"Vegetarian" Eggs?

These eggs come from chickens that eat a vegetarian diet (no meat, insects, or fish by-products). This term may imply that the chickens are eating a healthier diet, when in fact they are eating corn, soybeans, and grain. Plus, chicken are natural omnivores, so vegetarian is not necessarily best for them.

"Omega-3-Enhanced" Eggs?

These chickens are fed a diet of flaxseed and/or fish oils, so their eggs have almost 12 times more omega-3 fatty acids than regular eggs. Legitimate producers would state how much docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) their eggs have, because most people want to enrich their diets with DHA and EPA instead of ALA since those offer more health benefits for brain, eye, and heart health. Most omega-3-enhanced eggs have more ALA, which our bodies don't process quite as well.

So Which Eggs Are the Best, Healthiest You Can Buy?

In conclusion, pastured chickens that are free to run around and eat organic grass, bugs, and greens just lay a much superior egg. No egg produced in a large commercial egg factory/operation can compare. Of course, you could eat more conventional eggs to reap the same amount of nutrition, but then you are adding more calories to your diet.

Small local farmers supply fresh eggs from chicken that are raised organically in a nice environment with a large open area. You might even be lucky enough to purchase the eggs on the same day they are laid. Find a local farmer in your area that raises chickens humanely. Ask questions and learn how the chickens are raised and fed.

"Chicken Feed" Feeds You, Too!

Many of the nutrients chickens eat find their way into the eggs you eat. That's why knowing the chickens' diet is important.

Did you know that chickens are natural omnivores and should be eating bugs, insects, and grubs? They are not vegetarians!

Chicken farmers may add soy and corn to their chickens' diet, pumping them up with GMOs (genetically modified organisms). These ingredients are much cheaper than a chicken's natural diet, but they may also effect the quality and flavor of the eggs.

The reality: This is a common chicken farming environment!

The reality: This is a common chicken farming environment!

What Is the Difference Between Pastured and Pasteurized Eggs?

Don't get confused: A few letters can make a huge difference here. "Pastured" means the hens were raised in a pasture, but "pasteurized" means the eggs have been heated to reduce the risk of food-borne illness.

Pastured Chicken Egg Nutrition

Eggs are among the best sources of protein. Egg whites contain a lot of amino acids while the yolks are rich with vitamins and minerals.

According to a study from the 2007 Mother Earth News egg testing project, conventional store-bought eggs are nutritionally inferior to pastured eggs. Compared to official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data.

Compared to Commercial, Pastured Eggs Have...

  • 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
  • 4–6 times more vitamin D
Pastured chickens that are free to run around and eat organic grass, bugs, and greens lay the best eggs.

Pastured chickens that are free to run around and eat organic grass, bugs, and greens lay the best eggs.

Questions About Eggs

What are grass-fed eggs?

Some people refer to pastured eggs as "grass-fed," but this term is not particularly useful since eggs don't eat and pastured chickens eat much more than grass.

Which eggs taste the best?

Fresh eggs always taste best, especially if they are from happy, pastured hens.

Which eggs are the healthiest?

Studies show that pastured eggs have the least cholesterol and saturated fat and the most vitamins and fatty acids, which makes pastured eggs the healthiest choice.

Which are better: organic or pasture-raised eggs?

Pastured eggs are not necessarily organic—remember, whether an egg is organic depends on whether the hen ate organic. If given the choice between these two types of egg, I'd opt for pasture-raised because those hens are given the most freedom to roam and peck.

Do omega-3 eggs taste fishy?

Whether it comes from flaxseed or fish, omega-3 fats tend to have a somewhat fishy smell and flavor that some people notice.

Do dark yellow-orange yolks indicate healthier eggs?

Many people believe that you can tell the nutritional content of an egg just by looking at the color of the yolk but unfortunately, it's not that easy. The yolk's color depends mostly on the pigment of the foods the chicken ate. If hens have access to foods with yellow and orange carotenoids and pigments (xanthophylls), their eggs will have darker yolks.

And, since there is a preference for darker yolks, egg producers often add things to their feed to artificially produce darker yolks. So, although it may be true that colorless diets are also less nutritious, the darkness of a yolk does not necessarily indicate a healthier egg.

Do eggs with brown shells taste different from eggs with white shells?

The egg's color depends upon the breed of the chicken. There is no consistent or demonstrable difference, taste-wise or health-wise, between a brown and a white egg.

These are my free range chickens...they produce smaller, but more flavorful and nutritious eggs every day!

These are my free range chickens...they produce smaller, but more flavorful and nutritious eggs every day!

How to Test to See If an Egg Is Fresh

  1. Put an uncooked egg in a bowl of cold water. If it sinks to the bottom and lies on its side, it’s fresh. If it stands up, it’s about 1–2 weeks old. If it floats, it’s an old egg.
  2. Hardboil it. Storing eggs for a long time will cause evaporation of the whites, which is why the shell of an old egg is easier to peel off. Fresh eggs will be harder to peel because the whites are fuller and pressed harder against the shell.

What about you?

The Traditional Method of Raising Chickens

© 2012 Kim Lam

Comments: What type of eggs do you eat?

Jo on March 13, 2020:

I know for a fact, having raised chickens at home, that eggs from pasture-raised chickens are the healthiest. The yolk sits up high, and is a much darker color, and the whites aren't so runny because the chickens are eating in a natural habitat - not from junk food. I miss my chickens.

David on December 23, 2019:

Orange yolks aren't the best. They usually signify food dye in the feed.

Organic and/or pastured eggs usually have medium-yellow yolks in winter and deep golden-yellow yolks in spring/summer. I'd run a mile if the yolk was orange-tinted. I've never had a pastured egg with the yolks that dark.

It's difficult to get the ideal egg in winter in the UK. Organic seems least bad, because the feed will be free of GM ingredients and food dye.

Gabby on August 28, 2019:

You start this article by claiming that the orange deeper color of the yolk means a more nutritious, better eggs, it isn't. The color of the yolk simply depends on their feed, and an orange color does not signify a healthier feed either. I buy pasture-raised organic eggs from the same company and have gotten a variety of color in the yolk.

Harry on June 14, 2018:

You can extrapolate this on the entire food industry!

Food isn't what it use to be!

ArtbyFemine on March 29, 2018:

I bought Trader Joe's cage-free eggs and it sunk to the bottom and laid on it's side. So that's a pretty good egg.

Alex Jones on March 19, 2018:

This article was really helpful on my science fair project!

Chris on May 10, 2017:

Chicken houses contain as many as 100,000 birds. Not cool

Lena Durante from San Francisco Bay Area on May 03, 2017:

I definitely notice a difference both in the color and flavor of eggs from different sources. The cage-free eggs from our local co-op are really fresh and tasty; they also have a thicker shell, which protects them better from potential contamination.

Ms. Martin on March 13, 2017:

I moved to China about 2 years ago and I was taken aback by 1) the eggs aren't refrigerated and 2) the color of the yolk is orange. I've experienced a new style of eggs and they don't need salt and pepper to be tastier.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on September 03, 2016:

Kim, this is a wonderful article. I love eggs and try to buy foods that are healthy and organic. After reading this, I see that "organic" isn't necessarily the best when it comes to eggs. I've downloaded the scorecard mentioned in the video and am looking into pastured eggs available in my area.

Thank you for the information. Much appreciated!

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on February 24, 2015:

Great hub. There was a lot I didn't know about the different type of eggs. Well done and voted up! I'll buy pastured eggs next time around.

hyp on August 23, 2013:

Great hub! I should try & buy pastured chicken eggs next time. :)

bradley brown from Harrow Middlesex on April 27, 2013:

I always buy free range eggs, but i do find most of the time eggs now really lack in taste.

robyn cammer on December 01, 2012:

Cage free and free-range can translate to: 5,000 or so chickens inside on a filthy floor breathing ammonia (stronger at ground level). If just a few of these chickens can actually get outside in an outdoor, dirt-floored (or worse) pen, they are considered "cage-free" and "free-range". This has nothing to do with their diet. The absolute worse feed nowadays is ALL NON-ORGANIC FEED. IT IS GMO IF NOT ORGANIC. If you do not know what GMO is, google and watch the film Genetic Roulette. You will change your diet quickly. The best chickens are pasture-range with organic feed supplementation, plus organic fruits and veggies. I raise mine on Peaceful Valley Farm Supply rabbit and chicken forage grown in biodynamic compost. www.frogholler.net for pics

Kim Lam (author) from California on June 23, 2012:

Thank you for your vote, Crystal!

Crystal Tatum from Georgia on June 21, 2012:

I've never been clear on the differences between these labels on eggs. Very good explanation. Voted up.

Kim Lam (author) from California on May 07, 2012:

Hi Nare, thanks for reading. I'm glad I can help clear some concerns you had about chicken eggs that are raised from home. And don't worry about the blood spot, it's not harmful. Just pick it out with a fork. It's interesting that you though it tasted weird. :-) I think they're creamier!

Nare Gevorgyan on May 07, 2012:

Oh Kim I have been really wondering about the difference. My neighbour sells eggs but I never liked to eat "homemade" eggs as the color is "weird" and it tastes differently. Once my mom bought eggs from a farmer and we found little blood inside, after that i absolutely don't eat that kind of eggs. However after your article I change my mind...

Kim Lam (author) from California on March 12, 2012:

alexadry- I've always wanted to raise my own chickens too. I'm not sure if my Pit bull will get along with them. Yeah, her loss! You should print this article out and put it in her mailbox. :-)

Adrienne Farricelli on March 11, 2012:

I raise my own chicken and one of my neighbors was disgusted by the dark yolk! her loss!

Kim Lam (author) from California on March 11, 2012:

Thanks moonlake! Wow...double yolk?! Double delicious!

moonlake from America on March 11, 2012:

Lots of good information on eggs. We just had free range eggs yesterday. We buy our eggs from a lady that has chickens. The eggs are so big and many have double yolk. They are so good. Voted Up.

Kim Lam (author) from California on March 11, 2012:

Jojokaya, oh definitely, free range chicken taste way better!

jojokaya from USA on March 11, 2012:

I prefer free range chicken meat and egg. Very informative hub.

Kim Lam (author) from California on March 03, 2012:

cebutouristpot- Thank you for commenting! Animals should be raised in the most natural conditions to produce the highest quality food. The actual chicken taste different too, but that will be saved for another Hub.:-)

rob_allen- That must have been fun raising chickens when you were younger! Yes, sometimes the eggs are smaller, come out in different sizes and color, the NATURAL way they should be. You just stuck a light bulb in my head to write another Hub about how "picture perfect" every produce looks on the supermarket.

rob_allen from MNL, PH on March 03, 2012:

We used to raise native chickens when I was a kid and they lay great tasting eggs. These eggs might be smaller but the quality is great :) Thanks for sharing this hub :)

cebutouristspot from Cebu on March 03, 2012:

Hmm I never knew if you treat chicken differently they lay egg that taste differently. A knowledge learn here in Hubpages. Thanks for sharing

anonymous on March 03, 2012:

Very informative, it is annoying at how cheeky big business is allowed to be with their use of words!

Thanks for SHARING.

Kim Lam (author) from California on February 20, 2012:

Thanks hush444, healthwealthmusic, PDXKaraokeGuy for stopping by and commenting! Hopefully I can reach out to more people regarding healthy and delicious eggs.

Justin W Price from Juneau, Alaska on February 20, 2012:

I always buy cage free eggs. they're more expensive but it tastes better and the chickens are treated better. Great hub!

Ruth R. Martin from Everywhere Online ~ Fingerlakes ~ Upstate New York on February 17, 2012:

I love your hub! It is so true! I am not a huge egg fan, I mean, I do not absolutely LOVE eggs, but I agree 100% that organic pasture-raised eggs taste SO much better! And not to mention, they are also MUCH healthier! Thanks for writing about it to increase the awareness on this topic.

hush4444 from Hawaii on February 16, 2012:

Wow, I had no idea how little I know about eggs! I'm going to make a point to find some locally. Thank you for such in interesting hub.

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