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.

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13 comments on “Industrial Yolks

  1. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, I actually visited one of those hellish chicken egg farms on a mission trip to Nicaragua. This farm was the third largest in the country and had I believe 50 some thousand chickens. It was everything people say about them. The so called free range chicken eggs were taken from chickens that had a little more room to roam but still were pretty confined to just pathways between the rows and rows of chicken boxes for them to lay their eggs. The whole compound was surrounded by high fences and dogs were released at night to fend of predators. The owner did explain the feed used would produce a gold colored yolk that sold the best. The chickens were used for about 18 months of egg production then they were sent off to a processing factory to be turned into (gasp) chicken feed. They were processed into some kind of protein meal that was added into the chicken feed.

    I have not hunted down a local source of true free range chicken eggs but the more I think about it the more I should.

    Have a great free range chicken egg day.

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    • Bill says:

      As bad as that must have been, it would be small by US standards. A chicken factory isn’t even considered a large CAFO in the U.S. unless it has at least 125,000 birds.

      You can find a source for eggs in your area by using localharvest.org. Just enter your zip code and it should pull up farms in your area.

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  2. Thanks Bill for a very informative post. I can’t wait until we move to the country and start raising our own chickens. When we go to our farm we always try to buy some eggs and butter from a Amish family that lives near by. We can really taste the difference and notice the bright orange yoke in those eggs.

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  3. El Guapo says:

    I’ve got an idea! If they want the yolks to have the color of naturally grown eggs, grow them naturally!

    Radical, I know.
    Meh.

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  4. Great post! We have chickens, but we have to keep them inside because of predators. When our chickens were running outside, they had the nice dark yolks. Now that they are inside, the yolks aren’t that nice color. BUt, the yolks still stand up nicely in a skillet instead of being flat.

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    • Bill says:

      Yes, I should have mentioned that factory yolks are runny and yolks from natural eggs are firm. Here the yolks aren’t as orange in the winter, of course, because the chickens aren’t getting as much beta-carotene from grass and greens. I’ve been spoiling ours with some cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage leaves from the garden.

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  5. jubilare says:

    “Once you get used to the taste of a real egg, you’ll never want to eat the other kind again.” I can certainly attest to that! I used to not like eggs. Real eggs are different things entirely.

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  6. EllaDee says:

    Late in 2013 our news headlines prophesized an egg shortage due to bird flu outbreaks – http://www.foodmag.com.au/news/bird-flu-outbreak-delays-woolies-cage-free-plans. Now one of the big supermarket chains is saying it will have to delay it’s cage free egg plans.
    Any excuse… yolk rhymes with joke, and that what the egg industry is – a horrible joke.
    I only buy legitimate free range eggs such as from producers recommended by Flavour Crusader – http://flavourcrusader.com/blog/2011/09/free-range-eggs-australia/.
    I think the media headlines to be more accurate should have said ‘cage egg shortage’… and I can only hope the legacy of the deaths of all those poor chooks (RIP) is that maybe a few more people might extract their heads, and have a better think about the true cost of those cheap cage supermarket eggs.

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    • Bill says:

      The inhumane practices would end immediately if consumers simply refused to buy the eggs produced that way. Period.
      May more and more people do as you are doing. That’s how to end this.

      Like

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