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Consumer reports / Food All eggs are not created equal

When it’s time to buy eggs, are you chicken? There are so many choices – cage-free, organic, omega-3, vegetarian-fed, Grade AA or A, brown or white – that you might be tempted just to grab a familiar type or brand.

But think twice, says Consumer Reports. The different varieties its experts recently tried tasted pretty much the same, some cost twice as much as others and certain carton claims might not mean eggs-actly what you think.

• Taste. Consumer Reports’ testers scrambled eggs from one carton of each type and served them in a randomized order. In each case, the cooked eggs were a typical yellow, with some slightly brighter than others, and all were firm.

The main difference was in the balance of yolky flavor and sulfur flavor (from the white), and whether the sulfur flavor was clean or had a haylike or spinachy characteristic that comes from an older egg.

America’s Choice regular supermarket eggs had a slightly better flavor balance than most others; Nature’s Yoke Omega-3 and Davidson’s Safest Choice Pasteurized had inconsistent quality between tastings.

Freshness mattered. Though testers tasted all eggs by their sell-by date, taste can diminish as an egg’s age reaches that deadline.

• Nutrition. Large whole eggs have 70 calories, 4 to 5 grams of fat, 6 grams of protein and about 185 milligrams of cholesterol. Vitamin and omega-3 content can vary with the hens’ diet. Of the eggs tested, those from hens fed vegetarian diets tended to have more of certain vitamins and omega-3s than those from hens fed a conventional diet.

Bottom line: Consumer Reports’ small sample showed little difference in taste, but see below for definitions of terms that might matter when you shop. Whatever eggs you choose, look for those with a carton date far away from the purchase date.

Carton claims

• Cage-free, free-range. Hens are uncaged and inside warehouses. They can walk around, nest and spread their wings, but generally don’t have access to the outdoors. As for free-range, there are no standards for eggs.

• Grade. Department of Agriculture grading is voluntary, and companies pay for it. Grades are AA, A and B. Grade depends on the quality of yolk and white and the shell’s condition. Within any grade, size can differ. All USDA-graded eggs must be washed and sanitized.

• Label date. Eggs with a USDA grade shield must bear the date the eggs were placed in the carton, though the code might be incomprehensible to consumers. Federal law doesn’t require an expiration or sell-by date, but many cartons have them.

Buy eggs before a listed date, and you can use them within three to five weeks from the day you refrigerate them, even if the date has passed. Keep eggs in their protective carton and on an inside shelf in the fridge, not in the door.

• Omega-3. Hens were given feed that included flax, marine algae, fish oils and other ingredients to boost the level of omega-3 fatty acid in their eggs.

• Organic. Eggs with a USDA organic seal come from a facility checked by accredited certifiers and from hens raised on feed grown without synthetic pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or fertilizers. The hens are supposed to have outdoor access, but there’s some question as to whether that claim is adequately enforced.

Most organic eggs cost more than conventional ones partly because of the price of feed, smaller flock size and certification costs.

• Pasteurized. To kill pathogens, eggs are heated until just below the temperature at which they coagulate. They can be used in recipes calling for raw eggs.

• Pasture-raised. No official standards exist; egg sellers should reveal their own.

• Vegetarian. The hens have eaten all-grain feed with no animal byproducts.

• White versus brown eggs. Different breeds of hens just lay different-colored eggs. Quality, flavor and nutrition aren’t affected.

• Hormone-free, antibiotic-free. Empty claims: No hormones or antibiotics are used in producing eggs for human consumption.