You know the good eggs. They’re all-natural and cage-free, freshly plucked from the nest of a chicken with a protein rich diet free of GMOs, pesticides, and antibiotics. You schlep to the farmers market and pay a pretty penny for them, and when you get them home and crack them open you ooh and ahh over the gorgeous, richly colored yolks.
What puts the sunny in sunny side up?
Yolk color depends on a hen’s diet. The pigments in feed are deposited in the egg yolks so a hen that eats yellow corn will lay eggs with deeper yellow yolks than a hen that eats white corn. Most eaters believe that a darker yolk correlates with a more protein-packed egg, but in fact all it really tells you is what the chicken was eating.
It doesn’t mean that there aren’t benefits to cage-free eggs.
A pasture-raised hen’s diet is denser in nutrients from fresh vegetation and insects, and it lays eggs with higher levels of healthy fatty acids and antioxidants. Since there are more naturally occurring pigments in these foraged foods, free-ranging hens lay eggs that yield deep orange yolks, and while the color isn’t caused by the nutrients, it is indicative of their presence.
Like a dissolute party girl with the healthy glow of a faux suntan, conventional egg producers manipulate yolk colors to dress up the eggs of battery cage chickens.
Artificial colors aren’t permitted, but conventional chicken feed routinely contains the extracts of pigment-imparting additives derived from orange peels, red peppers, annatto seeds, carrots, marigold leaves, and algae. The leading line of poultry pigment comes from DSM– aka the European Monsanto- which touts the precision delivery and unique beadlet technology of its CAROPHYLL® range of carotenoid additives. Egg producers choose their desired shade of egg yolk using an industry standard egg yolk color identifier similar to the paint chip fan decks you find at the hardware store. While the eggs of pastured hens will show seasonal variations as the foraged diet changes throughout the year, conventional egg producers tinker with additive levels to maintain year round consistency. Kind of like wearing bronzer in the dead of winter.