Industrial Yolks

Back in September I blogged about how you can tell a natural egg from an industrial egg by the color of the yolk (HERE).  Sailorssmallfarm mentioned in a comment that industrial chicken farms have been adding marigold petal powder to change the color of their egg yolks.  I’d never heard of that.

Recently a customer sent us an article from the Wall Street Journal called “The Hunt for a Perfect Egg,” which discusses how scientists are trying to “improve” industrial eggs by manipulating the ingredients in the chicken feed to enable them to make various health claims about the eggs. The article is fascinating and it’s worth a read.  On the subject of yolk color, it includes this paragraph:

Over the years the company tweaked the feed recipe to boost vitamins D and B-12 and added marigold and alfalfa meal to increase lutein—a nutrient found in green leafy vegetables that can give yolks a bright yellow, not orange color. A small group of consumers prefers the farm-fresh look an orange yolk conveys and it is favored by many Hispanic shoppers, but “we want nationwide consistency,” on color, says Mr. Slaugh.

So for now they’re sticking to adding paprika to the feed in order to “achieve a bright yellow–but not orange–yolk that mainstream customers prefer.  Marigold and alfalfa meal have proved too orange and too expensive.”  I think the emphasis should be on the last two words of that quote. My guess is that cheap feed matters more to them than a supposed preference among “mainstream customers” for yellow yolks.

But if “mainstream” customers really do want their egg yolks to be bright yellow, that’s only because they’ve become accustomed to what factory-produced eggs look like and conditioned to believe that’s the way they’re supposed to look.  Real natural eggs (the kind favored by “a small group of customers who prefer the farm-fresh look”) have orange yolks.   And hens that forage freely produce eggs with orange yolks, without having to be fed marigold meal.

The bottom line is that while yolk color is still a pretty good indicator of egg quality, it’s only part of the story.  Taste is the way to know for sure.  Scientists just haven’t been able to make a hen in a cage lay an egg that tastes as good as a free-ranging hen.  At least not on cheap feed.

As I’ve said in many prior posts, don’t be fooled by the bogus claims on egg cartons.  If you buy your eggs in a grocery store, then they’re almost certainly produced in a hellish factory.  Find a local farmer who raised hens naturally and get your eggs there.  Once you get used to the taste of a real egg, you’ll never want to eat the other kind again.