What are grades?
Eggs are classified by USDA standards according to quality (using exterior and interior criteria) and size: AA, A and B. In higher quality eggs, the yolk and white both stand higher and spread less. Of course, grade will be a factor in cost.
Are organic eggs better than non-organic?
A "certified organic" label means eggs from hens fed rations with ingredients grown with no pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or commercial fertilizers. In organic egg production, hens must live cage-free with access to the outdoors. Organic eggs are more expensive than eggs from hens fed conventional feed in high-volume operations. Ethical eaters may seek out organic eggs to be consoled by the hens' quality of life but, according to the American Egg Board, the overall nutritional content of eggs is not affected by whether or not the rations are organic.
Free-range, cage-free or caged-raised?
True "free range" means the hens are able to roam outdoors but can include those that have once a day access to the outdoors. Few hens are actually raised outdoors due to weather and seasonal conditions. Aside from "free range," hens are either given the run of the inside floor area or are housed in cages but "cage-free" doesn't necessarily mean much in terms of quality of life for hens. Some eggs labeled "cage free" are produced in large indoor floor operations where hens are tightly packed side-by-side, their outdoor access being only a tiny opening for the beak. Egg experts agree that definitions of "access" are very loose and the monitoring of these standards is infrequent. Free-range and cage-free eggs are generally more expensive, but, according to the American Egg Board, the overall nutritional content of eggs is not affected by whether hens are raised free-range or in floor or cage operations.
White or brown shells: Any difference?
No, shell color is determined by the breed of hen and is not related to flavor, nutritional value or quality. Since brown eggs come from slightly larger hens that require more food, brown eggs are usually more expensive than white.
Are fertile eggs more nutritious?
Fertile eggs are not any more nutritious. Furthermore, they do not keep as well as non-fertile eggs and are more expensive to produce.
Whole egg or whites?
Most of us know that egg yolks are high in cholesterol - 215 mg for a large egg - while the American Heart Association recommends only 300 mg daily per person. On the other hand, an egg white (albumin) is fat free, contains only 10 calories and accounts for more than 50 percent of an egg's total protein, niacin, riboflavin, chlorine, magnesium, potassium, sodium and sulfur. Cholesterol-conscious eaters and dieters often opt for egg whites as a healthy alternative to whole eggs.
Well, hopefully, this begins to sort out the key issues for you and doesn't leave you more confused. Armed with the facts, it's up to you to decide which eggs you buy. Once you find the right egg and source, get to know the particulars and, if satisfied, stick with that type and brand consistently. All in all, eggs are an egg-ceptional source of nutrition for you and your family. And that's no yolk.
Jacqui lives in San Ramon with her pug, Nina Simone, and volumes of cookbooks and recipes. Her column runs every other week. E-mail her at email@example.com.
Buying eggs: Inspect any eggs that you purchase for breaks or cracks. And of course, take care when packing them in your shopping bag for the trip home as they are very fragile.
Keeping eggs: With store-to-home refrigeration, fresh shell eggs can be kept for about four to five weeks beyond the pack date on the carton.
Storing eggs: Store eggs in their original carton to keep them from absorbing refrigerator odors and to retard moisture loss. Do not store them on the refrigerator door as this causes inconsistent temperatures. Store eggs with their pointed ends facing down; this helps prevent the air chamber and the yolk from being displaced, slowing deterioration.
Deviled Eggs (makes 24 halves)
12 hard boiled eggs, shells removed and eggs halved lengthwise
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup prepared Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp sugar
4 tsp fresh chopped dill
Salt & pepper to taste
Extra dill for garnish, as desired
1. Remove yolks from eggs and place in a large bowl; mash with the back of a fork or a potato masher until totally ground. Stir in the mayonnaise, mustard, sugar and dill. Mix well until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
2. Stuff the egg whites with the yolk mixture. Refrigerate for at least one hour.
3. To serve, lightly sprinkle with paprika and garnish with extra dill, as desired.
French Omelet (serves 1)
2 Tbsp water
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp butter
(Multiply the recipe by as many additional servings as you need)
1. Beat and blend eggs, water, salt and pepper. Over medium-high heat, heat butter until just sizzling.
2. Pour in egg mixture and set eggs immediately at the edges of the pan by rolling the mixture around in the pan.
3. With a spatula, carefully push cooked portions at edges toward center so uncooked portions can reach hot pan surface, tilting pan and moving cooked portions as necessary.
4. When the top has thickened and no visible liquid egg remains, fill the omelet as desired. With spatula, fold omelet in half or roll. Invert onto plate with a quick flip of the wrist or slide from pan onto plate.
Filling: Add 1/3 to 1/2 cup of your favorite filling to each omelet. To season, add 1/8 to 1/4 tsp of your favorite herb or spice.