With Easter hopping upon us this Sunday, many of us will probably be spending time painting and decorating eggs with friends or loved ones for Easter egg hunts or decorative displays. These little guys may even show up on our dinner tables for Easter gatherings. But how much do we really know about this common food?
To help “crack open” some of the common mysteries about eggs, here are 5 fun facts you may not know, plus a buyer’s guide to what all those store labels really mean.
1. There really is a science to mastering the perfectly dyed egg.
If you’ve ever wondered why every Easter egg dye kit calls for vinegar, the technology news website WIRED.com breaks it down for us. Essentially, the acidic vinegar lowers the pH of the egg dye solution so that the dye will actually bind to the eggs.
If the solution isn’t acidic enough (like just plain water, with a pH of 7, for example), it won’t “activate” the dye. If it’s too acidic (like pure vinegar, or half and half water and vinegar, with a pH of 3), there is so much bubbling that it will leave blank spots on the surface of the egg where the dye wasn’t able to attach.
The folks with WIRED found that a pH of 4 – about a teaspoon of vinegar per half-cup of water – consistently yields a smooth, pretty color.
If you’re dying eggs with kids who are interested in the science side of things, you can purchase pH strips (they’re inexpensive and available at drugstores and health food stores) to test egg dye solution and adjust the vinegar content accordingly.
2. The U.S. is one of just a few countries that washes eggs.
The USDA requires all commercial egg producers to wash their eggs. Not only does it reduce risk of food-borne illness, it also improves aesthetics, as washed eggs tend to look cleaner and more uniform. Translation: We Americans like our eggs pretty.
Shortly after the eggs are laid, producers wash them with hot soapy water so that they’re shiny and clean. This process also rinses away the sheer, nearly invisible coating that naturally surrounds each egg. It’s the loss of this natural film that brings us to our next egg fun fact below.
3. The U.S. is also one of only a few countries that refrigerates its eggs.
Eggs are naturally porous, therefore that thin little coating helps to protect them and serves as a barrier to keep bacteria out. Since washing eggs removes this protective sheen, washed eggs then need to be refrigerated.
In many other countries, you’ll see eggs out on store shelves, not refrigerated. That’s because these eggs aren’t washed before they’re sent to markets. They may have visible dirt or other types of contaminants, but consumers simply wash them before using.
4. Eggs are still good beyond the sell-by date.
Don’t toss those eggs just because the date on the carton has passed.
According to StillTasty.com, an online guide to the shelf life of thousands of types of foods, eggs may be refrigerated for 3 to 5 weeks after purchase. And although the “sell-by” date on the package will usually expire during that period, the eggs still remain safe to use.
To maximize the shelf life of eggs, StillTasty.com recommends that we don’t store eggs in the egg rack of the fridge door, since the temperature is usually warmer. Instead, eggs will last longer when they’re stored in the main part of the refrigerator, in the carton they’re purchased in.
5. The yolk is full of nutrients.
Egg whites are still a nutritional superstar, one of the top lean, low-calorie protein-rich foods. But don’t toss all those yolks. Nearly 40 percent of an egg’s protein is found in the yolk – there’s about three grams of protein in the yolk of one large egg and four grams in the egg white.
Egg yolks are one of the top food sources of choline, an essential nutrient that plays a key role in fat metabolism and nerve function, as well as memory and cognitive functioning. They’re also good sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, nutrients that may help reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration. And finally, the yolk is also where most of an egg’s vitamin B12 and selenium is found too.
How to Decode That Egg Carton
The selection of eggs in the grocery store can be nothing short of overwhelming, with warm-and-fuzzy-sounding claims like free-range, pasture-raised and farm-fresh. But are these eggs really any better – and are they worth the higher price? Here’s a rundown of the common labels and claims you’ll see on cartons, and what they really mean.
What it means: Hens are not caged, but are kept indoors, usually in large industrial spaces with thousands of birds. The benefits: they can move around, lay eggs in a nest and spread their wings - unlike caged hens. One three-year study found that cage-free hens have stronger bones and lower risk of dying, compared to caged birds.
What It Means: Cage-free, plus access to the outdoors - usually in a poultry house with flapped doors allowing them access. There is no set standard on how much range is available to them. In many cases, “free-range” ends up being essentially the same as “cage free.”
What It Means: Egg producers who use “Organic” claims are regulated by the USDA. Organic eggs must come from chickens that are free-range, fed organic feed (no synthetic pesticides) and receive no antibiotics. The chickens may still live in crowded, industrial spaces.
What It Means: Most of their life is spent outdoors, with access to a barn. Many eat a diet of worms, insects and grass, along with corn feed. Pasture-raised is the gold standard of raising chickens in their most natural environment.
Omega-3 Fortified Eggs
What It Means: Hens are fed a diet consisting of feed like soybean meal, grains, canola oil, and/or flax seed, which are high in omega-3s, leading to higher levels of omega-3s in the eggs. However, while the omega-3s may be two to three times higher than traditional eggs, it’s still far lower than omega-3 content of oilier foods like salmon or tuna.
Egg claims that are more marketing than substance:
What it means: Not much. There is no standard definition or requirement for the term “Farm Fresh.”
What It Means: Again, not much. There is no standard definition or requirement for the term “Natural”.
What It Means: While technically accurate, it’s misleading. It is against U.S. regulations and illegal to give hormones to poultry. No eggs on shelves in the U.S. will be from hens that are given hormones.
For more details on this topic, read Molly’s full article on Nola.com.