Eggs are fickle things. They can be a one-ingredient meal or snack, but many people can't seem to cook them properly. Have you ever had a hard-boiled egg that has green on the outside of the yolk, scrambled eggs that have the texture of rubber, or a raw sunny-side-up egg? Chances are you have!
When you buy eggs, which color should you choose? White or brown? Undoubtedly, some people purchase brown eggs because they believe them to be a healthier option, but the color of the shell has nothing to do with the egg's nutritional value. The color of the shell is based on the breed of hen and the color of its feathers. Hens with white feathers lay white eggs, and hens with red or brown feathers lay brown eggs. It's that simple.
Understanding Egg Labels
Labels on boxes of eggs are very confusing, and the definition of the various identifiers may surprise you. Here's a breakdown of what each label means.
Organic: Organic eggs are certified to have been laid by cage-free or free-range hens raised on organic feed and with access to the outdoors.
Cage-free: The hens can roam in a building, room, or open area instead of being caged. It does not mean that hens have access to the outdoors or have unlimited space to move around.
Free-range: Eggs labeled free-range were laid by hens that have access to the outdoors and indoor space. These hens may forage for wild plants and insects.
Pasture-raised: This term is not USDA regulated but is understood to mean that hens roam and forage on a maintained pasture area. These are often the most expensive eggs and generally come from small farms.
Vegetarian-fed: The eggs come from hens fed a vegetarian diet which is controversial because chickens are not naturally vegetarian.
Omega-3 enriched: Eggs are laid by hens fed a special diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
But are Eggs Bad For You?
Eggs were once vilified as a cause of heart disease due to high cholesterol, and people were warned off eating them. New research indicates that eggs are high in fats, but the good kind. They are high in dietary cholesterol, which doesn't always translate to high blood cholesterol levels. Unsaturated fat and trans fats are the "bad" fats that affect blood cholesterol levels. Additionally, eggs contain nutrients that may lower the risk of heart disease and anti-oxidants beneficial to eyesight in aging adults.
For most people, eating an egg a day is not associated with an increased risk of heart disease. What you eat with the egg, bacon, sausage, fried potatoes, etc., can be bad for your health. As part of a healthy diet, an egg each day is an excellent source of protein.
Duck Eggs and Quail Eggs
Duck eggs sell out pretty quickly at the farmer's market. That might be due to their rich texture and flavor, or it could be because of their nutritional benefits. Duck eggs have a nutritional profile similar to a chicken egg, but their yolk is much bigger than a chicken yolk. They are significantly higher in fat and cholesterol, and they're also higher in protein and have a higher concentration of omega-3 fatty acids than chicken eggs.
Quail eggs taste similar to chicken eggs but are one-third the size of a standard chicken egg. One quail egg contains only 14 calories but is rich in various vitamins and minerals, including selenium, riboflavin, vitamin B12, and choline. While they are smaller than chicken eggs, they contain more fat, protein, iron, riboflavin, and vitamin B12 by weight. They're hard to find and more expensive than chicken eggs. Few people make a meal of them. Instead, they are hidden gems as an ingredient on a restaurant menu and fetch a high price.
Eggs as Ingredients
Eggs Benedict, omelets, and quiche are classic egg dishes. It's also not unusual to have a fried egg on a hamburger or a poached egg on a salad or pasta, and some people find numerous other ways to include an egg in their favorite dishes.
Even when eggs are not the main ingredient, they are essential ingredients in bread, pasta, pastry, and other desserts. The role of the egg yolk is to add flavor and texture to any batter. The yolk uniquely binds liquids and fats together through an emulsion process. Yolks also help thicken puddings or custards when warmed gently over low heat. Egg whites can be whipped with sugar to make meringue or act as a leavening agent in delicate sponge or angel food cakes.
Whole eggs are also used in many recipes as binding agents in batters. They combine with starchy elements like flour to form the structure of baked goods, and they contribute to the moist texture of many pastries. An egg wash brushed on the dough before baking produces a nut-brown, shiny loaf of bread or pastry.
Everyone should learn to cook an egg properly. You may not make a souffle, but scrambled eggs with whole-grain toast and fresh fruit make a perfectly well-rounded and nutritious meal.
Here's a tip for new bakers: if the recipe calls for a whole egg, remember not to include the shell like my son did!