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The Difference Between Organic, Pastured, and Free Range Eggs

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Kim is a board-certified holistic health coach, healthy living and cleanse consultant, and studied under Dr. Andrew Weil and Walter Willet.

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 for us from Vegas, her hometown. “They’re fresh eggs! My chickens had fresh eggs yesterday!” I thought to myself, You have chickens? Like, pet chickens?! And the eggs…they came from your chickens?!

Can You Tell Which Egg Yolk Has More Nutrients?

The egg on the top is a conventional egg. The one on the bottom is a pastured egg. Notice the deep colored yolk!

The egg on the top is a conventional egg. The one on the bottom is a pastured egg. Notice the deep colored yolk!

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” to it. That night, I counted chicken eggs instead of sheep before falling asleep.

These pastured eggs are richer in color and flavor, with a deep orange yolk. They may be different in size and color, but the one thing that remained consistent was the pleasant surprise that woke up my taste buds.

Pastured chicken eggs are the best choice and they will give you more bang for the buck. They have more nutrients than conventional eggs!

Pastured Chicken Egg Nutrition

Eggs are probably among the best source of protein. Egg whites contain a lot of the amino acids while the yolk is rich with vitamins and minerals.

According to a study from 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 for commercial eggs, eggs from hens raised on pasture may 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
  • 4–6 times more vitamin D

Chicken Farm Utopia...

how-to-buy-the-healthiest-eggs

Chicken Feed May Be Your Feed Too!

Did you know that chickens are naturally omnivores, and should be eating bugs, insects, and grub, which in essence produces nutrient-rich eggs? They are not vegetarians!

Chicken farmers may add soy and corn to their chicken’s diet, pumping them up with GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms)! These ingredients are much cheaper than animal products.

The Reality of It...

This is a common chicken farming environment!

This is a common chicken farming environment!

Tricks to Tell if the Eggs Are Fresh

  1. Hard boil them. Store eggs that have been on the shelf for a long time will cause evaporation of the whites, which is why the white shell is easy to peel off. Fresh eggs will be hard to peel because the whites are pressed hard against the shell.
  2. Put it 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.

The Traditional Method of Raising Chickens

So What's the Difference?

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.”
  • Chickens are raised in factories where they are crowded together in a very confined area, trampling on each other every day. 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!
  • Well by golly, there goes the farmer’s profit if some of the chickens died! So what do they do to prevent that from happening? They stuff antibiotics down their system, which means some of these antibiotics can end up in your eggs. Hormones can also be given to boost up their egg production. It makes sense from a profit perspective since more laid eggs equal more profit.

Pastured eggs

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

Cage free

  • Cage free systems are still not the best, considering they are still living in crowded hen houses. This means they are trampling around in their own feces and other chicken’s feces. They have no room to move or even spread their wings. No fresh air, no sunlight.

Free range

  • You would think the next best thing is free range. You immediately visualize beautiful landscapes of hens wandering around a green bed of beautiful grass with the sun shining on them all day. 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. With thousands of chickens confined in one area, do you think they actually use that door?

Organic eggs

  • Organically raised chickens must be fed food that is free of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, hormones, and antibiotics. That must be good news right? Not necessarily. However, they are your next best choice if you don't have access to pastured eggs.
  • Read this article to learn more about organic eggs. You will be amazed!

Vegetarian

  • This term may be used to imply that chickens are eating a “healthier” diet, when in fact they are eating corn, soybeans, and grain.

Omega 3 enhanced eggs

  • These chickens are fed a diet of flaxseed or fish oils.

In conclusion, chickens that are free to run around and eat 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. If you live in the city, and do not have access to a nearby farm, visit this non-profit website, Local Harvest, to learn about deliveries.

Remember: Happy and Clean Chickens Produce the Healthiest Eggs!

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!

© 2012 Kim Lam

Comments: What type of eggs do you eat?

Peter on July 12, 2020:

A lot od misinformation presented in this article by someone who has no clue about eggs and chicken farming. Do your homework before posting an article.

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.