I’m a big fan of those cable TV cooking shows, keeping them turned on even when I’m doing other things around the house. One thing I’ve noticed repeatedly, no matter which chef I’m currently watching, is the yolks of the eggs they’re using. “What kind of eggs are those?”  The yolks are deep orange in color and stand up from the whites; they look like they will even taste better. I needed to do some research!


Yolks from a free-range hen with a healthy diet (left), a factory farm egg from a supermarket (center), and a free-range hen with a more limited diet — probably supplemented with more grain and less greens (right).

What I found out is that yolk color is mostly determined by the diet of the hen. Chickens are actually omnivores, eating grains, greens, and also bugs and worms. Free-range or pastured hens have a more varied diet than factory farm hens (their feed is mostly corn), and therefore their yolks are darker and also richer in nutrients like carotenoids, omega 3s, and luteins. According to the American Egg Board, consumer preference in the U.S. is typically for light gold- or lemon-colored yolks. But is that just because yellow yolks are what we’ve become used to?

BRFM vendor Schacht Farm says this on their website…

“The first thing customers notice in our eggs is the bright orange yolk. Then comes the flavor…wonderful! The hens chase after bugs and forage for legumes. We supplement their diet with non-GMO grains and organic supplements. Pastured hens that are free ranging produce eggs with more Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin A as well as less cholesterol than the conventionally raised variety. There are many variables that determine what the eggs will look like throughout the year — the age and breed of the hens, length of day, available forage, temperature and supplemental feed all play a part in what our hens produce.”

11.15 Phelps eggs

Pastured, free-range eggs at the Market.

I think the bottom line here is to know where your eggs come from and what the hens that lay them are eating. Do a little comparison and taste-testing to really appreciate the differences. We have several vendors at the Market with pastured, free-range eggs; Schacht Farm, Royer Farm Fresh Meats, and Phelps Family Farm. They’ll be happy to talk with you about their eggs and their hens. Just ask them!