Say What? Chicken Butt!

Alright, so even though I grew up in Minnesota, and we HAD chickens on our little farm, it wasn't until my adult years that I learned that chickens actually can lay white eggs. Someone once told me that the reason chicken eggs were always white was because the eggs were always bleached commercially. Not true. Check out all the different colors of eggs I got from my lovely, country neighbor, Nancy.

So, do YOU know why they are different colors?

Here's a quick quiz...

Eggs are different colors because...

A. All eggs vary, and to create uniform "dozens" in the store, they are bleached (hhht-hhhm).

B. Because different species of chickens each lay their own, special eggs.

C. Because the chickens each have different colored butts. Hence: different colored eggs. (Really?)

You got it, (I hope). B.

So, here's a little lesson in eggs. Because this blog is yoga and ayurveda, may I first mention that ayurvedically, eggs are not recommended, but in our culture the whites are often used as a protein source. Although, there is only a moderate amount of protein available in an egg white. And, although the yolks are what contain cholesterol, they are also nutritionally dense. Farm-fresh eggs are most nutritious, and definitely the most fresh. They have sunflower-yellow yolks, and are also full of nutrition, unlike commercially harvested eggs. The key, as with anything, is moderation. Vata--no hard boiled eggs, or well-cooked yolks.... only poached and soft boiled for you. Pitta--you are best to stick with just the whites, and Kapha--eggs are not ideal for your constitution; especially the yolks.... You are best off choosing legumes for your nutritional needs. In fact, if protein is what you are after, and living in alignment with yogic principles, legumes definitely are the way to go.

Not all eggs are created equal. If you raise chickens, or if you're thinking of getting a few chicks, you'll want to learn about chicken egg quality. From shell strength to yolk color to egg grade, this excerpt from Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens will tell you everything you need to know. Check out these tips for getting quality eggs from your chickens.

Grading Eggs
Commercial chicken eggs are sorted — according to exterior and interior quality — into three grades established by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA): AA, A and B. For all grades, the shell must be intact. Nutritionally, all grades are technically the same.

Grades AA and A eggs are nearly identical, the main difference being that Grade A eggs are slightly older than Grade AA eggs. Grade AA eggs therefore have firmer, thicker whites that hold the yolks up high and round, whereas the white of a Grade A egg is “reasonably firm,” meaning it spreads a little farther when you break the egg. Grade A are the eggs you are most likely to see at a grocery store.

Grade B eggs have stained or abnormal shells, minor blood or meat spots and other defects. They are used in the food industry to make liquid, frozen and powdered egg products, so you are unlikely to find them at a grocery store. Homegrown Grade B eggs are best used for scrambling, baking and similar recipes in which the eggs are stirred.

Exterior Egg Quality
Exterior quality refers to a shell’s appearance, cleanliness and strength. Appearance is important because the shell is the first thing you notice about an egg. Cleanliness is important because the shell is the egg’s first defense against bacterial contamination; the cleaner the shell, the easier it can do its job and the less you need to be concerned about interior egg quality. Strength influences the egg’s ability to remain intact until you’re ready to use it.

When you wash an egg, a thin, natural film called the "bloom", dissolves, making the egg feel temporarily slippery. To replace natural bloom, commercial producers spray shells with a thin film of mineral oil, which is why store-bought eggs sometimes look shiny. When you have farm fresh eggs, your eggs may look dull in sheen. This is natural.

An eggshell’s strength is naturally influenced by the vitamins and minerals in a hen’s diet, especially vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus and manganese. Shell strength is also influenced by a hen’s age — older hens lay larger eggs with thinner, weaker shells.

Except for preserving the freshness of eggs, shells have no culinary use (although I was once served a blended health-food drink containing a raw egg, shell and all, and I must admit it tasted pretty good). Shells have plenty of other uses. They may be:

1. Dried, crushed and fed back to hens as a calcium supplement
2. Added to compost to sweeten the soil
3. Placed in tomato planting holes to prevent blossom-end rot

Interior Egg Quality
About the Yolk:

The yolk of an egg contains 100% of the carotenoids, essential fatty acids, vitamins A, E, D, and K (6 items). The white does not contain 100% of any nutrient, although it is a moderate protein source. More on that below...

The yolk contains more than 90% of the calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, thiamin, B6, folate, and B12, and 89% of the panthothenic acid. The yolk also contains between 50% and 80% of the copper, manganese, and selenium.

Egg yolks get their color from xanthophyll, a natural yellow-orange pigment in green plants and yellow corn and the same pigment that colors the skin and shanks of yellow-skin hens. The exact color of a yolk depends on the source of the xanthophyll. Alfalfa, for example, produces a yellowish yolk, while corn gives yolks a reddish-orange color. The key is to identifying nutritional value and freshness is to look for a vibrant colored yolk. The hue is less important than how vibrant the color of the yolk.

The White of the Egg:

The egg white is approximately two-thirds of the total egg's weight out of its shell with nearly 90% of that weight coming from water. The remaining weight of the egg white comes from protein, trace minerals, fatty material, vitamins, and glucose. The large egg's white weighs 38 grams with 4.7 grams of protein, 0.3 grams of carbohydrate and 62 milligrams of sodium and contains about 20 calories. Egg white has no dietary cholesterol. Egg white contains approximately 40 different proteins. Although the white does not contain more than 90% of any nutrient, it does contains over 80% of the magnesium, sodium, and niacin, and between 50% and 80% of the potassium, riboflavin, and protein.

Eggs can be supplemented with Omega 3 Fatty Acids. This is accomplished by feeding hens flaxseed or flaxmeal. Although this increases the "good fat" of an egg, the verdict overall is still out as to whether this is good for the hens, given that flax is not historically a natural component of their diet.

It is also good to note that as an egg ages, both its white and yolk deteriorate. Their quality may not have been all that great to start with, depending on the hen’s age and health, the use of medications, the weather and hereditary factors. The better an egg’s starting quality, the better it keeps.

My humble opinion is that, as with anything, fresh is best. Farm fresh eggs most likely come from chickens that are loved well by their caretakers, and range freely, and are likely to be the freshest, with the most vibrantly colored yolks and the most dense nutrition intact. They also support your local community and contribute to loving the animals from which our food sources come, if you do not choose to be a vegetarian.

WHOOFTA! That's a lot about eggs. Hope you learned something you've always wondered about...