With So Many Claims, What Eggs Should I Buy at the Grocery Store?

This post was written by MacKenzie Spears and Todd M. Weber.

 With so many options, claims, and prices what eggs should I buy?  Picture courtesy  Sweet Potato Chronicles .

With so many options, claims, and prices what eggs should I buy?  Picture courtesy Sweet Potato Chronicles.

Have you ever stood in the egg section of your grocery store and been paralyzed by the enormous number of egg options, marketing claims, and prices?  If so, you’re not alone.  Deciding what eggs to buy at the grocery store has become a very difficult and overwhelming decision.  With so many options available to us, we are forced to answer the following questions before making a purchasing decision:

  • is it worth paying the extra $1.50 for cage free eggs?
  • what does cage free even mean?
  • is it better to pay extra for organic eggs?
  • should I buy eggs from chickens fed omega-3 enriched feed?
  • what makes eggs from chickens fed a vegetarian diet special?
  • is pasture raised better than cage free?

The bottom line is, we don’t want to feel like we are being “ripped off” by purchasing a more expensive egg that really isn’t any better than a less expensive egg.  But with so many egg options and so many egg claims how do we know what egg offers the most “bang for our buck”.  To answer this question, MacKenzie Spears and I purchased 8 dozen different types of eggs from two local grocery stores (Safeway and King Soopers) in Denver, CO.  The types of eggs we purchased are shown in Figure 1 and their characteristics are shown in Table I.

  Figure 1. Egg Brands.  Reading left to right, top to bottom. NestFresh, Lucerne, Open Nature Cage Free, the Happy Egg Co., Eggland's Best, O Organics, Organic Valley Omega-3, and Alfresco Pasture Raised Eggs by Vital Farms.

Figure 1. Egg Brands. Reading left to right, top to bottom. NestFresh, Lucerne, Open Nature Cage Free, the Happy Egg Co., Eggland's Best, O Organics, Organic Valley Omega-3, and Alfresco Pasture Raised Eggs by Vital Farms.

To assess the quality of each type of egg, we performed a simple eye test.  The quantity of pigments associated with the vitamin A content of an egg can be inferred by the deepness and the richness of the orange in the egg yolk.  The deeper and darker orange the yolk is, the more vitamin A (retinol or precursors) that egg contains.  Although we did not scientifically quantify other properties of the egg such as viscosity or vitamin/mineral content, we think our results are pretty compelling.  See for yourself.

NestFresh, Lucerne, Open Nature Cage Free, the Happy Egg Co., Eggland's Best, O Organics, Organic Valley Omega-3, and Alfresco Pasture Raised Eggs by Vital Farms and egg yolk color

Interestingly, these eggs are arranged by order of cost.  If you read left to right, top to bottom, the most expensive egg is on the top left and the least expensive egg is on the bottom right.  Price does not equal quality!

If we reorder the eggs based upon color and not by price we can make some pretty interesting observations.

Egg yolk color by price and brand

Paying more for an egg doesn’t necessarily mean you are getting a better egg.  The clear winners of our visual experiment were Alfresco and the Happy Egg Company (price in green) and in our opinion, the clear losers were O Organics and Organic Valley Omega-3 Eggs (price in red).

When we look at Table I to determine what separates the good, from the bad, from the ugly, we see a clear difference!  

  Table I. Egg Claims. Visually,  Alfresco and the Happy Egg Company produced the best eggs, hands down.

Table I. Egg Claims. Visually, Alfresco and the Happy Egg Company produced the best eggs, hands down.

If your egg does not come from pasture raised chickens, none of the other claims really matter when it comes to vitamin A content (and by inference the quality of the egg)!  Now, to be fair Organic Valley Omega-3 eggs and Eggland’s Best market their products as containing more omega-3 fatty acids than a “classic” egg but there are numerous other foods that you can obtain your omega-3 fatty acids from as well.  I think we can all agree that we would purchase eggs from a local farmer if we had access to them, but most of us do not have this luxury.  MacKenzie and I wanted to figure out, given our options, what the best egg would be to purchase in your local grocery store.  After performing this experiment, it makes intuitive sense to us that pasture raised chickens would produce the highest quality eggs because their living and feeding conditions most closely resemble chickens raised on your local family farm.

While working on this project we also found some nice visuals that help explain our findings.

 What Egg Carton Labels Really Mean for You and the Chicken courtesy  Andrea Moore .

What Egg Carton Labels Really Mean for You and the Chicken courtesy Andrea Moore.

  Cage Free Hens.   Cage Free does not mean Free Range. Photo courtesy Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images.

Cage Free Hens.  Cage Free does not mean Free Range. Photo courtesy Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images.

 Classification system for caged, cage-free, free-range, and pasture-raised courtesy  Vital Farms .

Classification system for caged, cage-free, free-range, and pasture-raised courtesy Vital Farms.

In conclusion, the price you pay for eggs does not necessarily dictate the color, quality or taste of the egg yolk.  The Alfresco Egg, priced at $5.99 came in first place, being the deepest in color.  In second place for color depth and egg yolk quality was also one of the higher priced eggs, the Happy Egg Co. that costs $5.49.  Surprisingly, the third deepest colored egg yolk was Nest Fresh, priced at $3.99 (which would offer you the most "bang for your buck"). 

With these results in mind, eggs such as O Organics and Organic Valley Omega-3 that have claims stating Non-GMO and USDA organic do not have the most color in their yolk.  Even the eggs with ‘Cage Free’ claims did not result in deeper egg yolk colors.  Our experiment showed that perhaps the generic egg from the supermarket does indeed compare to the egg that is twice its price despite the various health conscious claims on the carton.  

So which eggs should you buy when you get to the store?  Use your best judgment!  It all depends on the purpose of what you are using the egg for.  Are you using the egg to make egg whites, a blueberry muffin mix, hard boiling it or to cook a quiche?  What you are using the egg for should dictate what type of egg you buy.  Hopefully after reading through the results of our experiment, you can stare at the egg section of your local supermarket with a more thorough understanding of the relationship between egg price, egg claims, and quality the egg (and not be concerned that you are getting "ripped off")! 

 

Todd M. Weber PhD, MS, RD

MacKenzie Spears

 

 

 

For more information on the differences between what constitutes a “cage free”, “free range” or “organic” egg there are several excellent resources available here, here or here