Through My Kitchen Window – Easy Eggs

Buying a carton of eggs should be easy, shouldn’t it? Not if you’re trying to buy nutritious eggs from healthy chickens. If you don’t care, then just grab the closest carton of large white eggs and run. If you do care, then hunker down and read on.

First the Egg Basics:

Eggs come in six sizes. Jumbo, Extra Large, Large, Medium, Small, and Pee Wee. Size does not determine quality.

Quality is determined by three grades. Grades AA, A, and B. Grades AA an A have firm yolks and thick whites, while grade B has flattened yolks and runny whites. Use AA and A for poaching, frying, and hard boiling. Use B for scrambling and baking. The color of the yolk is determined by the type of feed the hen receives.

Determine an Egg’s Freshness By:


The air pocket in the large end of the egg grows as the egg ages. So a smaller air pocket equals a fresher egg.

The chalazae is the twisted cordlike strands of egg white that anchor the yolk in the center of the egg. A prominent chalazae indicates a fresh egg.

Egg Carton Terms:

The healthier (and happier) the chicken is, the healthier their eggs will be. It’s simple. Unfortunately for us, the food industry (and the USDA) enjoys complicating things. Determining a happy chicken by the terms printed on an egg carton is tough. So let’s look at them.

Cage Free: Chickens are not kept in cages and have access to food and fresh water. They do not necessarily have access to the outdoors, and are probably kept in a dark, crowded chicken house.

Certified Humane: Chickens are un-caged, have access to perches, nesting boxes, and dust bathing areas. Outdoor access is not required. Starvation to induce molting is prohibited.

Certified Organic: The chickens are un-caged, fed an organic, vegetarian diet, are free of antibiotics and pesticides, and have outdoor access. No specific requirements for the duration or quality of the outdoor access are given by the USDA

Free Range, Free Roaming: Chickens are given shelter, food and fresh water, and access to the outdoors. Again, no specific requirements for the duration or quality of the outdoor access are given by the USDA, so this label is not very helpful.

Natural: This term refers to how the eggs were handled once they entered the processing plant. They are minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients.

Omega-3: All eggs have low amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. The chickens are fed fish oil, flax seed or alfalfa meal to increase the amount of omega-3. Pasturing also increases omega-3 amounts.

Pasture Raised, Pastured: The USDA does not regulate this term, but it generally means the chickens had large amounts of access to a green field.

USDA Grade Shield: The eggs were packaged in a plant that met USDA equipment, facility, sanitary, and processing requirements.

Vegetarian Fed: Chickens are not fed animal byproducts.

As you can see, most of the terms found on egg cartons are vague. Your best bet is to shell out a few extra dollars for organic pasture raised eggs. Or visit or to find local, farm fresh eggs. Buying eggs from a farmer in your area is often cheaper and gives you the chance to see how the chickens and eggs are treated.

Information in this article has been compiled from the American Egg Board (,, and “How To Decode Egg Cartons” by Laura Sayre, printed April/May 2007 in the Mother Earth News.

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