Words and images by Dana.
Versatile and loaded with healthy nutrients. One large egg has about 74 calories, just 5 grams of fat, 6 grams of high-quality protein and all 9 essential amino acids. The protein and fat in eggs help to sustain energy levels and studies show that the vitamins and amino acids in eggs can actually improve eyesight, brain development, memory and overall health.
Eggs for breakfast seems like a no-brainer, but have you ever stood in front of your grocery store’s dairy section, gazing at the mountains of carton options and wondered why there are so many types of eggs to choose from? I have.
After studying Canada’s Food and Farmer Guidelines, I enlisted the help of local egg farmer and Director of Egg Farmers of Ontario, Hubert Schilling, to help us crack the case on marketing the chicken egg. Here are your basic terms and what they mean:
Brown vs. White: The breed of hen that lays the egg determines the colour of the egg. There is no difference in taste or nutritional value from the white egg and the brown egg, although you’ll most often see the white egg used in advertising campaigns because it gives the perception of health and cleanliness.
Size Matters: Eggs range in medium, large, and extra-large sizes. The size of the egg is most often determined by the age of the laying hen. Most commonly used in recipes is the large egg, laid by older hens.
Omega-3 Enriched: These are produced by hens fed a diet of flax seed and grain. These eggs offer 4 times the amount of omega-3 fatty acids as standard eggs.
Naturally raised: The power of the phrase creates a mental picture that the laying hens had a lovely (even if brief) life but I can’t find a legal description that actually defines the terms of ‘naturally raised’ eggs in Canada, so I’m ruling this one as “marketing jargon”.
Cage-free: Means the hens were not confined to cages, but many cage-free birds never leave the crowded barn.
Free-range: Similar definition to cage-free, ‘free-range’ means the hens are not confined by individual cages and have access to the outside at least some of the day. Housing systems for free-range hens, unless certified organic, do not necessarily provide much more space than caged hens, nor are they required to provide nest boxes, perches or litter for dust bathing.
Certified Organic: In Canada, organic egg farmers have Canada’s National Organic Standard rules and regulations to abide by. This means operators need to provide the hens with access to the outdoors, shade, exercise areas, climate and environment allowing the birds to express natural hen behavior. The flock sizes are smaller; their feed is certified organic and does not include antibiotics. Unless grown on-site, this feed costs farmers two and a half times more than standard grain and the premium costs are passed on to the consumer.
Mr. Schilling of Egg Farmers of Ontario is tired of all of the weight that marketing terms have had on the egg industry over the years. “The only label that matters to me [on a carton of eggs] is the maple leaf Grade A symbol. This symbol means those eggs came fresh from my farm or one of the other 350 egg farmers in Ontario, since Ontario is self-sufficient for eggs,” Mr. Schilling explains, “I raise 35 000 laying hens year round from my 1000 acre farm in Oshawa, Ontario. One day [per week] of production we grade the eggs (wash, remove defects, weigh, and package) and sell them from our store front. The other 6 days of hen production are shipped to a Burnbrae Farms production plant in Mississauga. They grade our eggs and ship them to major grocery chains across the province. People just don’t understand how “local” most of those grocery store eggs actually are.”
The almost 18 000 hens at White Feather Farm live in cages, inside a temperature-controlled barn, year round. “The agriculture industry modernized, just as the automotive industry has. The barns my hens are raised in are a lot different than my father’s,” this 3rd-generation egg farmer notes. Barns today are much more insulated, offer better air quality, and cages are taller and deeper than those of conventional egg farming 25 years ago.
It is amazing to think that something as simple as egg white + yolk bundled in a delicate shell can be so complex. With a greater understanding of these popular marketing terms, the informed choice of what to stock in your fridge is ultimately yours to make. Personally, at this very moment, I’m thinking about 2 locally farmed fresh eggs whisked with a dash of salt and some diced spring onion, folded over some Monterey Jack shredded cheese for a delectable omelette lunch. Long live the glorious egg!
There is so much more to discuss when it comes to this amazing ingredient. I will continue to celebrate eggs through the month of May with posts on the best way to scramble an egg / my daily breakfast, my favourite ham and swiss quiche recipe, and, if you’re really good, sharing the secret to a GREAT lemon meringue pie.
Comments are open below – how do you like your eggs?Add to favorites