Are Those Pretty Blue, Green, and Cream Chicken Eggs You See on Instagram Better for You?
Rainbow-colored eggs, like the ones our founder gathers from the chickens on her farm, are popping up all over social media feeds. From blueish tones to creamy pinks and even shades of greens, when cracked open, these colorful eggshells reveal a beautiful orange golden yolk that maintains its shape when cooked and is seemingly made to be fried and enjoyed on crunchy toasted bread, added to shrimp, sausage, and cheesy grits, or eaten straight off the pan. So, what's the deal with these beautiful, trendy and, yes, delicious eggs? For starters, they're created from heritage breed chickens.
What are Heritage Breed Chickens ?
The Livestock Conservancy defines heritage breeds as chickens with four characteristics: recognized as an American Poultry Association Standard Breed before the mid-20th century, are naturally mating, can live a long, thriving life outdoors, and have a slow growth rate. Sean Womack, VP of marketing and new product development at Happy Egg, which sells blue and brown eggs from heritage chickens, says to consider it like dog breeding: "Over centuries people breed dogs to be taller or to have a great sense of smell, it's similar with birds, over time they were breed to have stronger shells or in commercial production to lay eggs on a regular basis."
Because heritage breeds, such as the ones that lay blue and green eggs, are not generally bred for high volume egg production, Womack jokingly says the chickens are artisans that like to sleep in and don't necessarily lay an egg first thing in the morning; what's more, raising them takes more time and resources, so they're not common in industrial, commercial production and therefore not as widely available as the white and brown eggs commonly found at the supermarket.
What Do These Eggs Taste Like?
Besides the beautiful eggshell colors, many people adore heritage breed eggs for the flavor. "The egg itself has a deeper color yolk and a richer flavor," says Michael Robinov, CEO of Farm to People, which sells a variety of eggs, including blue eggs from laid by Ameraucana chickens from Finger Lakes Farms and rainbow eggs laid by more than 22 heritage breeds at Ironbound Farm. "The shells are thicker and the yolks have greater integrity and perkiness, very noticeable if you're baking or doing anything that involves whipping the whites."
Where Do I Find Them and How Should I Cook Them?
Depending on where you live, you'll find eggs from heritage breeds at your local farmers' markets. If you're in the New York City area, you can get them from Farm to People, and they're also available at major retailers throughout much of the U.S. from Happy Egg. You will find that these eggs tend to be slightly more expensive than the typical brown or white eggs you see at the supermarket, but it also takes these more commercial eggs longer to come to market.
How you cook them is up to how you like your eggs. Robinov says that one of the benefits of cooking with them is that their consistency allows for more air to be incorporated quicker. Womack says that while they've heard of people using them in pasta dough and bowls of ramen, and more they find most people make them star of the dish. "They're the hero, not the sidekick," he says.
What Are the Benefits of These Eggs?
It's unclear if there are any environmental benefits to heritage breeds. On the one hand, eating eggs from various types of chickens helps promote genetic diversity, which is part of a healthy ecosystem. However, John Brunnquell, CEO and President of Egg Innovations, says that despite their distinctive feature, he hasn't seen a nutritional difference of significance or environmental benefits to heritage-breed eggs. Egg Innovations doesn't sell heritage eggs in part because they haven't seen a notable number of consumers interested in alternative shell colors.
Similarly, Womack says he doesn't know of a significant ecological benefit but that the impact on small family farmers has been positive. "We think the best way to raise a bird is it goes outsides, pecks around and plays all day," says Womack. "Our farms are all family farms in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Iowa where they have these beautiful birds running around. The biggest impact of these eggs really is to farming, it's finally having a model that is supporting that way of raising a bird and the demand is growing,"
Similarly, Farm to People has seen the benefit of the popularity of these eggs to their farmers. Ironbound Farm, based in New Jersey, was able to add more chickens to their flock based on the demand for the eggs, but Farm to People also sees environmental benefits. "Most of our eggs are laid by heritage breed hens, bred for their hardiness and ability to forage for food," says Robinov "Their foraging not only contributes to their quality of life, but is a form of silvopasture which aids in pest control and soil turnover for the land on which they graze. Regenerating the soil in this way also helps sequester carbon from the atmosphere. An ecological plus."