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Is It Worth Your Money To Buy More Expensive Eggs?

Eggs 101

Have you wandered through the egg aisle at your local grocery store recently? Talk about information overload! There are so many different labels, certifications, and varieties of eggs that it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by it all. But all of that is going to change today!

I want to help unravel the mystery of all those different kinds of eggs, so our trips through the egg section are filled with certainty rather than doubt. :-)

Eggs 101

So buckle up, because today’s post is all about eggs! Or is it all about chickens? Regardless of which came first, we’re talking about eggs and the chickens who lay them. :-)

There are two common types of distinctions made on egg carton labels, and we’ll be talking about both! The first is housing types, or the kinds of conditions that the hens live in, and second I’ll cover diet types, or the kind of food that the hens are fed. I’ll talk about each one, and what difference each distinction makes (or doesn’t make) in terms of the price and quality of the eggs. So let’s get started, shall we?

Housing Distinctions

Eggs 101

Conventional

The eggs produced by chickens in conventional housing are usually the most budget-friendly. You can find them for about $1 per dozen at most grocery stores. Chickens in conventional housing are kept in “battery” cages at all times, with 24/7 access to food and water. With these kinds of cages, farmers can keep more egg-producing chickens in a smaller space, and then sell those eggs for a low consumer-friendly price.

Eggs 101

Cage-Free

Many stores and restaurants have recently turned to “cage-free” eggs. “Cage-free” eggs aren’t inherently different from conventional eggs, the chickens are just housed differently. In a cage-free facility, the hens are allowed to roam around instead of being kept in a small cage all the time.

It’s not clear whether cage-free facilities are more humane than conventional ones. Some egg producers will even argue that the birds have a better quality of life in cages, citing a smaller chance of the birds hurting themselves or each other. Ethical aspects aside, cage-free chickens are still crowded in their laying houses. And because the farmers aren’t using space as efficiently, their costs are higher, and that premium gets passed onto the consumer.

Eggs 101

Free-Range

Free-range eggs have much of the same requirements of cage-free eggs, with the added requirement that the chickens have “access to the outside.” The chickens have an outdoor area they have access to, but it is usually just a small patch of yard. Many chickens choose to simply stay inside, even when they have access to a “free-range” yard. Otherwise, the diet for free-range chickens is quite similar to cage-free birds, and most birds still only have have 2 square feet of space to themselves.

Eggs 101

Pastured or Pasture-Raised Eggs

Pastured eggs are one of the best options available in stores, but they’re also one of the most expensive egg options. For the most part, these hens are kept in mobile coops at night to roost and lay eggs. But during the day, farmers release the chickens into pastures where they are can forage, take dust baths, soak up the sun, and just be chickens. While the nutritional content of eggs is pretty much identical across all housing varieties, there is some evidence that eggs from pastured chickens are an exception. Some sources suggest that pastured eggs have more vitamins and less cholesterol due to the chickens’ increased access to sunlight and a highly varied diet.

Diet Distinctions

Eggs 101

Organic

Farmers provide these hens with feed which is certified organic. If eating organic is important to you, organic-fed eggs could be a good option for you. But keep in mind that there are fewer certified organic feeds than standard feeds, so the chickens may end up with a more limited diet overall. And of course, organic eggs are definitely more expensive than conventional ones!

Eggs 101

Omega-3

The hens that produce Omega-3 eggs are fed a diet with plenty of Omegas, such as kelp, flax, and linseed. This makes for a more nutritionally beneficial egg, offsetting fats in the eggs that are not as healthy.

Eggs 101

Vegetarian-Fed

Some egg-laying hens are fed a vegetarian diet. But did you know that chickens aren’t actually herbivores? They’re omnivores, just like us! (Fun fact: the modern chicken is the closest living relative to the great Tyrannosaurus Rex!) Chickens love to eat insects, worms, even small mammals if given the chance. Vegetarian-fed eggs come from chickens that aren’t getting their usual sources of protein, and may even be protein-deficient.

Eggs 101

In Conclusion

When it comes to buying eggs, there are a lot of buzzwords and designations that can make it a confusing choice! Hopefully the information above will help you make that decision with confidence the next time you’re at the store. To find the very best quality eggs from happy hens, seek out local farmers and/or CSAs! If you call around enough, you’re sure to get in touch with someone who has a chicken coop, or knows someone who does. Because happy birds lay the most delicious eggs, in my opinion. :-)

Related: 10 Surprising Ingredients That Will Make Your Eggs Taste Better

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  • I was hoping to be able to attach a photo with this comment, but jpeg files aren’t allowed. It’s a photo of several eggs in a bowl showing the difference in the color of the yolks between pastured eggs and store-bought eggs. The pastured eggs are a rich orange color. The Vitamin K2 content in the pastured eggs is high because of all the green grasses that the chickens eat while foraging.

  • We found pastured eggs at our local HEB. We keep chickens ourselves, but in the winter, and as chickens age, they lay less. The pastured egg brand tasted exactly like our own happy-chicken eggs. Well worth the money. We won’t go back to conventional eggs.

    Jillee, this is the best blog out there. Thank you.

  • Also to note is when chickens are fed “vegetarian” diets, it consists of a lot of soy. Soy is 95%+ GMO in this country, meaning is sprayed heavily with pesticides. This is the feed that is used to make your eggs. It’s not always about what you eat, but about what you eat ate. It’s what that animal used to make it’s protein. Many of these toxins are stored in higher amounts in higher fat foods. Same goes for corn-fed animals. Our chickens are fed an organic, non-GMO diet, they are free-ranged/pasture-ranged, they get all kinds of goodies from our organic garden and even leftover milk and meats. Their eggs are stand-up orange yolks. Shell color is determined by breed of chicken. Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks lay brown. Isa Brown lays dark reddish-brown, Leghorns lay white. Americaunas lay green and blue. Brahmas lay a pinkish brown. They’re all good and the mix makes for a beautiful carton of eggs when we sell them.

    • My daughter raises Arcana hens. When she brings some over to our house, they make great egg dishes. They have very hard shells and are very fresh and great in baked goods.

  • I thought you might address the price for size of eggs in the same category–For example, the difference in price between medium, large, extra large and jumbo eggs. I use the guideline that if the next size up is 25 cents or less, buy the larger eggs.

  • Hi Jillee,
    I live in Australia and the free range eggs here means the chooks get to range freely.
    But there are good and bad “free range”. Choice website has an extensive list on the
    details of how many chooks per acre. I am amzed that so many eggs who claim to be “Free range”
    have 10,000 birds per hectare. The best I have found is 4 chooks per hectare. This is real “free range”
    and I am very picky about making sure I only buy the true “free range”.
    When I go to the supermarket, they have maybe 6 different free range and I am very lucky to find
    any of these approved of by Choice. This is so frustrating when you see people buying the crook “free range” and they think they are doing the right thing. (and paying eextra for the privilage)
    Check out: https://www.choice.com.au/food-and-drink/meat-fish-and-eggs/eggs/articles/what-free-range-eggs-meet-the-model-code#vic
    Does the US have a similar consumer watchdog who has checked this out?
    BTW I just love your laundry recipes.
    You are a gem
    Sueie Barber
    Melbourne
    Australia

    • I thought you might address the difference between price of eggs in the same category. For example the difference in price between medium, large, extra large and jumbo eggs. I use the guideline if the next size up is 25 cents or less, buy the bigger eggs.

  • Local farm fresh duck eggs are my treat; deep yellow yolks (they have a pond). A great chef let me know long ago to cook eggs on very low heat to preserve the protein, plus these tender eggs taste wonderful. On my gas stove I cook in coconut oil and set the burner to the lowest flame–takes 4-5 minutes to finish two eggs over easy perfectly. When hard boiling, use the same principle; bring to a boil, turn off the heat, and cover with a lid for 20 minutes. For a softer yolk, less minutes to your preference.

    Just found this site today while searching for a natural granite cleaner/polisher. I’ll be coming back often. Thank you.

  • I love them no matter what color, or type raised. Your information is very helpful. Lot I did nt know. Like one of your readers posted, more expensive eggs are not in the budge, because we eat lot of eggs. Via it, baking with them, having for breakfast, boiling to eat after a workout, or whatever. You are always so helpful. Thank you.

  • I believe the reason for the labeling meme: “vegetarian fed hens” is because of Mad Cow disease and Bird Flu. Companies branded eggs and poultry that way so that people would know hens weren’t being fed ground up contaminated cattle (as cattle had been, which led to the spread of Mad Cow), and that they weren’t being fed other ground up contaminated chickens.
    It was more of an assurance of protection (from the bastardization of the bird’s “omnivore” diet).

  • Thank you for this article. We raise happy pastured chickens. Once you have your own chickens, you realize how inhumane it is to keep them in tiny cages. As you mentioned, most any area will have many people raising backyard chickens who would be happy to sell the eggs to you, or even give them away.

  • I wonder if the hens who are fed soybeans have the phyto hormones in the eggs. I cannot eat soybeans so I try to avoid eggs from vegetarian or organically fed chickens. I have no idea what chickens are being fed unless it’s bragged about on the label.

  • Thank you SO much for this article. I am on a tight budget but spend more on commercially produced eggs that are certified “free range”. Thanks to you I will no longer do that. I will either buy from my local farmers’ market or – when necessary – just go ahead and buy regular eggs, which makes me feel pretty bad. But anymore there is practically no way to feed oneself with a clear conscience unless you can afford the high prices of food produced humanely on small farms. But, having been tricked for so long by misleading information, even then I wonder….

  • Mother Earth magazine did testing on eggs a few years ago. They asked readers to send them eggs along with information on how the chickens were cared for and all feed given. The eggs that were from chickens that ate organic feed and had free run of yard or pasture, (and they do eat anything) had the best nutrition. I know from raising my own they taste much better also. The cheap eggs have no flavor. For breakfast I use the better eggs. I keep the cheap eggs for baking. Now for meringues you may want to get eggs from someone you know just collected them that morning. Store eggs are anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks old before they get to the store.

  • You should have added pictures of the hens in the overstuffed cages used for conventional production. Its terrible. Caged free isn’t much better. Vegetarian chickens? How silly. My hens are free range. Lots of space exercise and bugs! They taste and look great!

  • One important thing to know about battery eggs is that hey are much more prone to salmonellas (due to the fact that, to put it bluntly, the hens sh*t on each other in there, since they’s stacked – ugh). That explains while salmonella is so widespread in the US (much more so than in European countries), since there are lots of battery farms there. I live in a country where battery raising was banned more than 30 years ago, thankfully.

  • What isn’t mentioned here is that male chicks born with their sisters (who go on to be kept to produce eggs) are slaughtered after hatching, by being gassed, put ALIVE into a grinder, or sometimes left to suffocate in a plastic bag, as they are useless to the egg industry! For years I would buy eggs from so-called ‘happy hens’ who i could see running about outside and felt okay about it. When I found out the real situation I stopped eating or buying eggs. There is no such thing as cruelty free eggs I’m afraid.

  • I’ve read quite a bit about factory farms, the places where the animals spend their entire lives in cages. I haven’t decided if they’re just horrible or horribly sad.

    I now buy eggs and meat from animals that were treated well, wild-caught tuna and every other fish, grassfed beef and organic produce if not non-gmo. My weird GI tract is much happier.

  • I find the eggs that are cage free give me an easier time to digest. Some other eggs give me abd pain,gas and diarrhea.I found your article very helpful. Keep up the good work.

  • You are correct in stating chickens are omnivores like us and that they will eat small mammals. We raised three hens in our backyard, (even though it was against city codes), and had so many eggs we shared them with our neighbor who was a single mother with 3 children. I had to share the fact that I saw one of the hens snag a mouse away from my cat and proceed to gulp it down in one swallow! I was amazed ! They were champions at eating all the bugs in the yard, but I never imagined they would eat a mouse.

  • Well written, Jillee! I personally believe what you believe: a happy chicken will lay better eggs! Besides — I would NOT want to live in a tiny cage my whole life, riiiiight???? I actually choose to purchase my eggs and produce from my local co-op, and then purchase everything else from a standard grocery store! Thanks so much, as always!

  • I buy eggs that claim to be from free-range chickens although they cost more than $6 a dozen at the supermarket. I believe they really are free-range because they have deep yellow yolks. A lot of “cage free” eggs have the almost white yolks of conventional eggs. I learned how much more delicious eggs with bright yellow yolks are when my daughter raised chickens. Even though she lived in the city and her chickens lived in a fenced in coop they had enough freedom to lay the most amazingly tasty eggs. The fence was about 20′ x 12′ with a raised wooden coop they could hide under when it rained and sleep in at night. That tells me how very little freedom the white yolked “cage free” chickens must actually have.

  • Hi Jillee, A friend and I bought eggs from the local farmer that are cage free. I checked with a “wholistic healer” who said if the eggs are not cleaned of feces but allowed to sit on the eggs the bacteria penetrates the shell. This being true the goodness of local farmers and their cleanliness or timeliness regarding “clean eggs” affects the efficacy of the eggs. We only buy organic and if any feces is spotted they are put back.

  • As an Agriculture Educator, I think you did a wonderful job explaining the differences between the labels as upfront as possible. Public perception drives marketing and animal agriculture can easily become an emotionally charged conversation.

  • I used to live int he country and had about a dozen hens and one rooster. They had a coop to stay in at night and also a fenced in area surrounding the coop. First thing in the morning they were allowed out of the coop & fenced in area and were free to roam over my 5 acre plot of land (although they stuck pretty close to home in one acre). They were delightful pets to me, with their cooing and clucking. Some even sat on my shoulder occasionally! The point is, they ate bugs and scraps and had chicken feed and, in the winter, cracked corn to keep them warmer. The eggs my ladies produced were the most yellow and delicious I have ever tasted! Now that I live in town, it is difficult to find another backyard chicken setup but I have recently. I agreed (my idea) to pay the lady $6 per dozen because they are worth every penny!

  • If I could make one comment – I have in the last few years become soy intolerant and unfortunately soy is in 65% of our food products! With regard to chickens and eggs, most commercial feed is soy because currently it is the cheapest oil and byproduct on the market. As a result if you are soy intolerant you will need to source a local farm to buy eggs that are not feed soy or a soy derivative.

    P.S. Soy (lecithin) is in crackers, mayonnaise, eggs, meat, bottled asian and Indian sauces, and most commercially prepared products.

  • Thank you so much for stating that chickens are NOT vegetarians! I avoid ‘veg fed’ eggs at all costs, as the egg shells are thinner & the yolks are pale. Chickens need protein…and given a chance…they will snarf a mouse in a heartbeat!

  • If I want eggs, I just go to the pen in the backyard and look in the nests. I love keeping backyard chickens, and the best is knowing exactly what is going into my eggs, and how my birds are treated. Chickens are definitely omnivores-my hen caught a snake the other day. Great article Jillee!!

    • I so agree! I just finished eating a couple of fried eggs fresh from the nest. Nothing like fresh eggs. Jillee, you should do a story on the freshness of store bought eggs. You will be shocked as to how old some eggs in the market are. Not to say they aren’t still good and healthy for you but when you eat an egg laid just hours ago you won’t want to eat another market bought egg ever!

  • Miss Jillee, if you lived closer I would bring you dozens of my organic, cage free eggs. Our hens have plenty of place to roam in their enclosed predator-free runs.

  • That was very informative. I kind of already know what cage free eggs are.Id worry about the chickens picking up illnesses from the other birds.We basically just get the regular eggs at our. If money wasn’t an important factor I might try some of the organic type stuff. Unfortunately this type of diet is expensive.

  • Having seen the conditions that the chickens in intensive egg-production facilities live in, I feel blessed that I live somewhere where I can buy fresh, locally produced and truly free-range eggs for £2.00 for a dozen, especially since I am on a very, very tight budget. I’d even pay a bit more, but my friendly egg-supplier only wants enough money for his eggs to keep ‘his girls’ in good chicken feed!
    I’d keep chickens myself, except that my husband is violently allergic to their feathers and ‘dander’ and wouldn’t be able to care for them if I was unable to do so. As Anne Connell observes, the yolks of these eggs are a rich golden colour and they just taste so much better than supermarket shop-bought eggs. Plus I know that ‘the girls’ are well cared for and have happy lives!

  • I was horrified by a report I saw years ago about how hens suffer in those tiny cages on factory farms. Their feet become deformed from living on wire “floors” – claimed to be hygienic because excrement drops through. The birds were so stressed by being confined to this little cage that they pulled out their own feathers. I was so appalled that I never bought another factory farm/battery egg. These farms were banned in Switzerland years ago, thank goodness! I pay a bit more now for free range eggs. I live in the country and it’s good to see the chickens strutting around outside, digging for worms, dust bathing, or snoozing in the shade. Happy birds just make me feel better!

  • I only buy eggs from chickens that were fed a vegetarian diet. Years ago, I watched an expose’ on egg farms that said that some chickens were fed the ground up carcasses of chickens who had died and that this practice was common on factory farms. I would love to be able to pay 69 cents for a dozen eggs at Aldi, but the carton doesn’t specify the type of diet that the chickens were fed and I am still too grossed out by that expose’ after all of these years.

      • I agree Bea. I too only buy free range/pasture raised eggs. Yes I pay a premium but paying for eggs from chickens kept in horrible conditions does not sit well with my conscious and only supports the horrible practice. I have signed many petitions trying to change this in the USA. I realized too when eating out that I am probably supporting this so now I rarely get eggs out or go to places here who use local pasture raised eggs. Don’t mean to offend anyone…just my personal feelings.

    • Chickens need animal products in their diet, even if its just bugs, worms, etc. Your best bet is to find a local farm that sells eggs. Check Craigs List, look for signs along the road, or find a farmers market. Bottom line, NO commercial eggs can hold a candle to farm fresh eggs.

  • With the number of eggs my growing family consumes I’d probably be better off investing in some hens but that’s not going to happen anytime soon although it is a growing trend in urban and suburban Ireland.
    The taste difference alone is why I opt to pay 60cent more per half dozen for local free range corn-fed eggs. The yolks are always bright yellow and almost curdy. I don’t know if buttered eggs are a thing on your side of the Atlantic but if available I’d highly recommend them. The farmer seals the fresh warm egg with a very thin layer of butter, it barely adds a sheen to the shells but it helps preserve their freshness brilliantly!
    Poached eggs for brekkie now, methinks!!

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