It seems that the egg offerings at grocery stores are becoming more and more diversified. With a slew of labels ranging from natural and certified humane to Grade AA and Grade A, it can be difficult to choose which carton is right for me. (Writer Grace Elkus took a deep dive into these labels, identifying the seven egg labels that aren’t worth paying extra for.)
But what about the egg’s natural packaging, AKA the shell? Usually brown or white, but sometimes shades of blue, green, and beyond, what can these shells tell us about what’s inside? Also, is it worth paying up for one over the other based on the color of the eggshells? Here, I break down what these colorful exteriors can tell us about the eggs inside—with a little help from my family.
What Determines the Color of Eggshells?
According to farmer Ingrid Abraham (she’s also my mother!), who has been raising chickens for over 30 years, “the color of eggshells is determined by the breed of chicken that lays them.” For example, one of the most commonly kept chicken breeds for egg production is Leghorn chickens. Prized for their ability to produce a high volume of white eggs, it’s likely you’ve seen more than a few Leghorn eggs at your local grocery store.
There are also rust-colored Rhode Island Red chickens, another popular and prolific breed, which lay large brown eggs. But it doesn’t stop there. Araucanas lay light blue and green eggs and Marans lay deep brown- to maroon-shelled eggs.
The American Poultry Association officially recognizes over 500 breeds and varieties of chickens, but it is likely there are many more than that. Family farms like Alchemist Farm & Garden breed their own chickens, like the aptly named Alchemist Blue chickens, which lay bright green and blue eggs. These new breeds are hybrids of several existing breeds, selected to fulfill specific qualities like temperament, eggshell color, egg production, or meat quality.
Do Different Colored Eggs Taste Different?
The color of the eggshells has no effect on the flavor of the eggs. “The nutritional value and the taste of the egg depend more on the living circumstances of the hens, such as diet and access to the outdoors,” says Abraham. Time spent foraging for weeds and scratching up the soil to hunt for worms and insects adds diversity to their diet. In fact, according to a study by Mother Earth News, chickens that are given free range to forage outdoors lay healthier eggs.
“Just like you feed the soil to produce the best plant possible, feeding chickens a well-rounded diet will result in better eggs,” added Ingrid’s partner (also my father!) Lee Abraham. He finds there is a “huge difference in flavor” between farm-fresh eggs and the ones found on the shelves of the local store. Farm-fresh eggs win, always.
Though it may come as a surprise, the color of eggshells does not contribute to the nutritional value or flavor of the eggs inside; it merely corresponds to the chicken’s breed. Diet has a bigger influence on the quality of the eggs, meaning it’s worth paying for local farm-raised eggs over the cartons in your grocery store. Paying more for brown eggs? Not worth the extra cash.