Anyone who’s had the pleasure of cooking with free-range, organic eggs has probably noticed the difference in colour between eggs from healthy, free-range chickens and caged chickens from mass farming projects.
Many people have written about the darker orange colour and thicker consistency that farm-fresh, free-range egg yolks have, especially in comparison to eggs from caged chickens, which are typically thinner and a pale yellow colour.
But how does the difference in colour and texture between these different types of eggs come about? Does it represent a significant difference in nutritional value? The answer, according to nutritionists, may in fact be yes.
It’s All In The Chickens’ Diet
The darker colour in free-range egg yolks comes from carotenoids called xanthophylls(1), which are found in dark leafy greens such as kale, collards, broccoli, and spinach.
These are present in the diets of many chickens raised on small, sustainable farm operations – chickens on these farms are more likely to be omnivorous rather than vegetarian; pastured chickens diets typically include bugs, grubs, and meal worms – some particularly aggressive chickens have been known to go after small rodents as well!
Caged chickens are typically fed a vegetarian diet made up of grains, with corn incorporated to give the yolks a brighter yellow hue. But not even corn can come close to providing the same colour that a natural free-range, pastured diet can.
Greater Nutritional Value
When chickens consume a diet rich in proteins as well as grains (like flaxseed), the nutrients they consume are concentrated into the yolks of their eggs, giving them a darker orange colour – and a greater nutritional value as well.
According to a Pennsylvania State University study(2), pastured eggs have greater levels of vitamins D, A and E, as well as more omega-3 fatty acids and beta-carotene – all of which means that pastured, free-range eggs are better for you than eggs produced by caged chickens.
In addition to being better for you, pastured, free-range eggs from smaller farms are better for the earth than eggs from caged chickens in larger, mass-farming operations(3). Pasture-based farm operations help the environment by fertilizing the soil and reducing the amount of grain produced as feed. They also use less fossil fuels to transport feed and animal waste, by taking advantage of the animals’ natural ability to spread their own manure and feed themselves.
A simple online search for sustainable farms in your area is all you need to find pasture-raised chicken products!