Eggs. They’re great for the eyes, serve as an excellent source of protein (two eggs contain the protein equal to a serving of meat, poultry, fish or beans), and are one of the only foods containing naturally occuring Vitamin D. And of course, they are delicious! But, with so many varieties of eggs on the shelves of grocery stores and on the stands at farmer’s market, knowing a bit about the difference between the plethora of choices can help make a good egg just a little bit easier to find.
Brown vs. White Eggs
Brown eggs have a long and illustrious history in New England that goes back to the days before steamships, when Yankee clipper fleets shipped frozen ice from New England lakes all the way to China. For the journey home, Yankee crews bought Chinese hens, who in addition to providing fresh brown eggs for the long voyage, also proved hardy enough to survive the bitter New England winters. According to the New England Brown Egg Council, the first commercial poultry farm with these chickens was established in Little Compton, Rhode Island, hence the origin of Rhode Island’s distinguished state bird, the Rhode Island Red.
The brown egg’s long shelf life in New England history has made it a favorite among locals ever since. And although there is no apparent nutritional difference between brown and white eggs, they do come from different hens—brown eggs come from chickens with brown feathers, and white from chickens with white feathers. The reason brown eggs can be more expensive than white is that the hens who lay brown eggs are generally larger, and thus require more food/space. Brown eggshells are also thicker than white eggshells, but otherwise, both types of egg are essentially the same, no matter how you like to eat them.
Where to obtain some of these famous New England brown eggs (or brown-feathered chickens)? Check out: Balance Rock Farm in Berlin, MA, Chip-in Farm in Bedford, MA or High View Farm in North Hanover Township, New Jersey.
Move Over Green Eggs and Ham. Platine Bleue and the Aruacana
When Dr. Seuss wrote Green Eggs and Ham, he may have been referring to the Araucana. Often considered “boutique chickens” in the US, these fowls were first discovered in South America. US breeders were drawn to the Araucana’s unusually-colored eggs, which come in lovely pastel blues and pale greens. You may have spotted these beautiful eggs at a local farmer’s market, or heard of friends using Pete and Gerry’s Platine Bleue Hen Eggs. Platine Bleue eggs come from the cage-free Ameraucana hens of Pete & Gerry’s organic family farm in Monroe, New Hampshire. The farm’s Ameraucana hens are derived from the original Araucanas that have been raised since the 16th century by the Mapuche people of South America. The farm’s website describes Platine Bleue eggs as having a “deep yellow yolk” and a “very rich flavor.” However, it should be noted that Platine Bleue and other heirloom egg varieties do not have more nutritional value than other eggs. In fact, the shell color of an egg has nothing to do with its nutritional value. Simply put, an egg is still an egg now matter what color you paint it.
Other Labels to Consider
You may have noticed that, in addition to differences in coloring between eggs, there are also differences in labeling on egg packaging. These labels often give consumers more information about a hen’s diet and treatment. Some eggs have the label “organic,” which means the hen receives a special diet of pesticide-free 100% organic feeds from the day it is born. Other eggs may contain the label “cage-free,” which although varying in its precise definition, sets forth the basic precedent that the animal not be caged and that it is given adequate space to roam, roost, and flap its wings. In turn, “free-range” eggs designate that the hen is living “cage-free,” but go one step further in requiring that the hen also has access to outdoor runs. If you’re interested in learning more about the treatment of commercial hens, the New England Brown Egg Council suggests visiting theHumane Farm Animal Care program’s website.
Whether your preference is white, brown, or even blue eggs, buying local is always your best bet in assuring you get the freshest product. And since New England has such a rich tradition in producing local brown eggs, you may want to start with eggs from the region’s prized and most prevalent New Hampshire Red hens, who have the Rhode Island Red to thank for their existence. Happy hunting!