Anyone else out there get super overwhelmed with the egg selection in the grocery store? You go to the store because you’re out of eggs. It should be an easy choice. But instead you find yourself staring at the shelves not knowing what to choose, or worse, that the person next to you will judge you for choosing the wrong one! In an age where it feels like there is a new category or brand of eggs in the store every month, we all need some clarification. End the confusion and learn how to shop for eggs with this helpful guide!
Let’s break it down.
Main Categories of Eggs Are:
- USDA certified organic
- Vegetarian fed
- Omege-3 enriched
- Pasture-raised (and the Certified Humane Handled & Raised certification)
- Farm fresh or natural
Dang, that’s a lot of choices. Before we go in-depth with each one, let’s first discuss if egg color means anything in our selection process.
Brown vs. White Eggs: Does it Matter?
Back when there were less egg choices, the standard white eggs in the grocery store were usually from the commercially farmed brands where masses of chickens are caged. This personally caused me to develop a belief that only brown eggs were from “happy and healthy” chickens.
Actually, egg color comes purely from the chicken’s genetics! So depending on who is laying the egg, depends on the color egg you get. Egg color should not be a major deciding factor when you shop for eggs. So let’s stop shaming white eggs and assuming they’re the worst. Instead, educate yourself on these different labels to shop for the best eggs for you!
TL;DR – A Summary of The Egg Labels
For those that don’t necessarily want to know all the details but just want to know what eggs are best, we have you covered. Here’s a summary of each egg label to better help you learn how to shop for eggs.
- Cage-free. Doesn’t mean they aren’t still packed like sardines. Check the egg brand’s standards for further info.
- Free-range. Still a little misleading. Sounds like the chickens roam free but only means they have access to outside. It does not mean they actually GO outside.
- Pasture-raised/certified humane. If eggs have BOTH labels, then the farm has held their chickens to the highest standards. These eggs are expensive for a reason. These eggs come from chickens that legit get to roam around, have space to roam and consume their natural diet.
- USDA certified organic. The only label currently regulated by the USDA. The chickens meet the above free-range definition, which again is not made clear. This label also means the chickens are fed organic feed.
- Vegetarian fed/Omega-3 enriched. Basically a marketing gimmick. Spend the amount you’d pay for these eggs on pasture-raised eggs instead.
- Farm fresh or natural. Just be sure to do your research before purchase. Just because it’s local and farm raised, doesn’t means the chickens are treated well.
An EGG-XacT (EXACT) Breakdown:
Regular Eggs – the Grading Scale
Eggs you see in the grocery store are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on a grading scale – Grade AA, A, or B.
Grade AA eggs:
- Best for when appearance is important like for an Eggs Benedict presentation
- Whites are thick and firm
- Yolks are high and round
- Clean, unbroken shells
Grade A eggs:
- most commonly sold eggs
- similar to Grade AA except whites are less firm
Grade B eggs:
- typically used more for liquid, frozen or dried egg product
- whites are thinner
- yolks are wider and flatter
- shells may show slight stains
Check out the graphic for further visual egg shape reference.
Cage-Free Eggs (USDA Regulated)
At it’s core, cage-free basically just means that the chickens are in fact not raised in cages. In lots of ways, this can mean better environments for the chickens.
Cage-free doesn’t necessarily mean the chickens have access to outside though, as they could be in buildings like barns or poultry houses. Be aware that inside these spaces, the chickens may even be packed like sardines with no real space to “roam”.
Remember. Each egg label, like cage-free, has a simple definition. This is an instance where it is important to look into what cage-free means, by brand, for a full view of how the chicken is treated.
Free-Range Eggs (USDA Regulated)
The free-range egg label is another label that is a bit hazy in definition. Free-range chickens must be able to have access to outside. However, this does not mean that they actually ever spend time outside. Instead, it could just mean that they have a way to do so but never get to use it.
If the free-range eggs also have the certified humane label, this means there actually is a designated amount of outdoor space required for each bird.
Pasture-Raised Eggs (Non Regulated)
Pasture-raised eggs are yet another confusing label. If a carton of eggs only says pasture-raised, then there is no way of guaranteeing how the chickens were treated as the term is not regulated by the USDA.
But, eggs with the pasture-raised label AND the certified humane label come from chickens that have lived on farms with very high standards. Because of this, these eggs tend to be the most expensive. Farms with both of these labels have passed a specific humane certification (HFAC). This particular certification guarantees that the chickens spent a minimum of six hours per day in a pasture and there is a least two square feet per bird.
Pasture-raised eggs can have over five times as much omega-3, vitamin D and other nutrients than any other eggs. For those using raw eggs for a recipe, pasture-raised, certified humane eggs are the best choice out there.
USDA Certified Organic
Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture only regulates the certified organic standards. For eggs to meet these standards, the chickens must be fed organic feed, free of any hormones, antibiotics or animal byproducts. It also means that the chickens meet the free-range standards where the chickens are cage-free and have access to outside. Again, outside access does not mean the birds actually go outside.
Vegetarian Fed Eggs
Organic vegetarian fed is a label that sounds great but means little. Chickens are natural omnivores so this only means that they are being fed feed that does not contain any animal byproducts.
If I am shopping for eggs, this one is a pass for me because I don’t know anything else about the chickens’ environment based on the label.
Omega-3 Enriched Eggs
Eggs with the omega-3 label have come from chickens that have been given that supplement in some form or fashion. By feeding the chickens omega-3 in the form of fish, flax or something else, the chickens omega-3 fatty acid levels increase.
Farm Fresh or Natural Eggs
Getting eggs from a farm in your area helps support local businesses and could mean fresh, great eggs. But if you don’t know anything about the farm, then there is no way to know what this really means. Farm fresh or natural eggs are labels that are not regulated and therefore does not require the farmer to give details of how the chickens were treated.
Always be sure to do your own research and take a look into how chickens are handled before purchase.
Now that you know how to shop for eggs, why not get educated on the types of carbonated water out there? Learn all you wanted to know (and more) about carbonated water in order to make the most educated shopping decisions.