We all know how to cook ‘em, but do we really know what we’re eating? This quick guide will help you understand egg nutrition and recognize fresh eggs, from humanely raised hens.
The anatomy of an egg can tell you almost everything you need to know about the egg, from the health of the hen it came from, to the age of the egg.
On the large end of every egg, just under the shell, is an air cell. It’s most easily seen when eggs are hardboiled, as it forms a slight indentation in the egg white. Fresher (younger) eggs have smaller air pockets. You can test the freshness of an egg by submerging it in water. If the egg floats, the air pocket is large and the egg is too old to eat. If it sinks, the air pocket is small and the egg is fresh. Pay close attention to the shell too, as a brittle shell indicates a lack of calcium and vitamin D.
The egg white, also known as albumen, has two distinct parts; thin and thick. The two parts of egg whites are prominent when frying an egg. You’ll notice that the outermost white (the thin albumen) spreads further and is more clearly pigmented than the innermost white (thick albumen). As the egg ages the two whites merge together and become indistinguishable from one another. In a fresh egg, the thick white will also spread less. In terms of nutritional content, the egg whites provide mostly protein and trace amounts of minerals.
Another telling characteristic of freshness is the chalazae, the white, cordlike fiber holding the yolk in place. As the egg ages, this fiber becomes clear.
The yolk is perhaps the greatest indicator of egg quality. The color is directly related to the nutritive value of the hen’s feed. Look for brightly pigmented, yellow yolks. Bloodspots in the yolk can indicate that the hen did not receive adequate vitamins in its feed. The egg yolk is also the nutritional powerhouse of the egg. Although commonly tossed due to its high fat and cholesterol content, the yolk is full of essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals not present in the egg whites alone.
Lastly, while there are numerous stickers and claims plastered to egg cartons these days, we believe the best options are USDA certified organic, which is a government regulated term, or pastured/pasture-raised eggs. Pasture-raised implies that the hens were allowed to graze in fields and given covered areas to lay eggs. Unfortunately the term is not regulated or certified by a government agency, so fraudulent claims do exists. Your best bet is to buy pastured eggs from a local farm or grocer. Try Cottonwood Creek Farm’s Pasture Raised Eggs, available at Denver’s Corner Store. The hens are vegetarian fed, never given antibiotics or growth stimulants, and best of all, the farm is local!