Last Update: March 10, 2023
Whether you like them runny and over-easy or soft-scrambled with a sprinkle of chives on top, the best eggs are the ones that come from happy, healthy chickens. When you’re choosing a carton at the grocery store, however, it may feel like all those marketing terms are competing with one another (and creating a confusing shopping experience).
Organic, pasture-raised, omega-3 fortified—there are lots of terms to consider when buying eggs, but we’ll show you how to separate the most meaningful from the greenwashing fluff.
Which is better, cage-free eggs or organic eggs? Can eggs be both organic and pasture-raised? Here’s how to read the terms on your carton to choose the most nutritious eggs from farms with the highest animal welfare standards.
Cage free eggs are eggs that come from chickens who aren’t kept in small, individual cages. Instead, they’re allowed to move about a hen house (though there are no restrictions for how large that space must be).
Free-range eggs are eggs that come from chickens who are able to access an outdoor area, like a field or pasture. While free-range chickens have access to the outdoors, they may also spend part of their time in a hen house.
Pasture-raised eggs come from chickens that spend the majority of their days in a pasture, roaming freely and foraging for their own food. They spend part of their time (such as when they’re sleeping at night) in a hen house, where they will also lay their eggs. Pasture-raised chickens are typically only found on small farms and their eggs are sold locally.
Organic eggs come from hens that must be fed certified organic feed (or allowed to forage for their own food), and aren’t fed antibiotics or pesticides. While organic standards recently changed to require that laying hens get some outdoor time, “organic” does not necessarily also mean “pasture-raised”.
Did you know that eggs have grades? You may or may not have noticed this identifier on your carton, but the USDA assigns three grades to eggs: AA, A, and B. These grades have to do with the age and freshness of the egg, which also signifies how firm the whites are and how round and high the yolks are.
Not all eggs are created equal—and neither are all egg labels. Some of the language used on egg cartons may be misleading. Here are a few commonly misunderstood egg identifiers and what they mean.
These are eggs from hens fed a diet that’s supplemented with foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as flaxseed oil, linseed oil, and kelp. This may produce eggs that are richer in omega-3s (good fats that may support heart health), but not by a distinguishable amount as it pertains to your own diet.
Because chickens are naturally omnivores, feeding them a vegetarian diet goes against their nature and may not be good for their health.
The marketing term “all-natural” doesn’t have a standard definition, and it doesn’t say anything specific about how the hens are treated, where they live, or the foods they eat.
Like many other foods, eggs sometimes contain greenwashing language such as the term “farm-fresh”. This marketing tactic doesn’t mean much, aside from that the chickens are raised on a commercial farm of some sort.
The FDA banned hormones for egg-laying hens in the US more than 60 years ago, so this identifier is null.
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