Regular readers will recall that Andy Dunham, the Hardest Working, Most Eligible Organic Guy in Iowa, told me recently that if people can only buy two things locally/organically, eggs should be one of them. He assured me that there was a profound difference between sustainably raised eggs from healthy local chickens and anything you can find in a grocery store.
I wanted to put it to the test myself. On Saturday, I bought two sets of eggs, cooked ‘em up, and did a blind taste test to compare them. The first set came from our small, organic CSA, Caretaker Farm (look, here it is). The other were the cheapest I found in the supermarket.
The rules: make scrambled eggs from each batch. All factors except the eggs’ origin are exactly the same — same exact amount of butter, same exact amount of milk, same pan. Have people (in my family, and Jenn’s) taste them, without knowing which was which. For reasons that will soon become known, this required that they shut their eyes as they eat. Can they tell the difference between the eggs?
The short answer: these are not the same eggs.
Difference #1: Price. Okay, price-wise, I’ll admit, these aren’t the same eggs at all. The pastured eggs from Caretaker Farm were $4.00/dozen. The cheapest eggs in the supermarket were less than half that cost ($1.59/dozen, medium size, with my supermarket card).
(It should be noted that at a farmer’s market on the same day, a local farmer had been selling farm-fresh eggs for a mere $2.00/dozen. I passed these up, though, since this farmer keeps the chickens confined to protect them from coyotes. They do have plenty of room to move about, and on any other day, I would have bought these. However, for the purpose of this experiment, I wanted eggs from chickens that I know have been outdoors).
First is that they didn’t have that weird squiggly white thing that comes off the yolks, but what stood out most was the color. Can you see the difference in color? Don’t know how it looks on your screen, but in real life, the color difference was profound. The pastured eggs were much darker, far more…I don’t know…vibrant looking, I suppose. That difference continued after the eggs started cooking:
And even once they were cooked:
The supermarket eggs really did look like a washed out version of the pastured eggs. And it turns out that they are, at least nutritionally speaking (which brings me to Difference #3: Nutritional Content). Studies vary, but they seem to consistently indicate that pastured eggs are much richer in omega 3s, have a better omega 3 to omega 6 ratio, and significantly higher amounts of vitamin A, vitamin E, and beta carotene.
When you really start to look into it, the $4.00 eggs start to look like a nutritional bargain.
Could you actually taste the difference, though? Here are the results.
Merrie (age 5): Licked her lips after each bite, declared confidently “I like both, but #2 [the farm-fresh] is better.” She then skipped off to play with Sophie. Conclusion: pastured.
Blair: “They definitely taste different. I’m not sure I like one better than the other, but #2 definitely [again: farm fresh] has a stronger flavor. Maybe #2.” Conclusion: can tell difference, but if there is a preference, it is a slight one for pastured.
Hannah (age 3, and she couldn’t have been cuter trying to hide her eyes behind her hands, even though she just couldn’t help peeking): “Yummmmm.” And then: “Yummmm…” Conclusion: no preference.
David (who was stuffed up with either raging allergies or a bad head cold): “I don’t know. I can’t tell. Maybe #1 [supermarket], but I don’t know why.” Conclusion: supermarket, although he was stuffed up enough that he couldn’t detect any flavors, of anything.
Jenn: “Number one [supermarket] seems to have less natural egg oils somehow.” (I kid you not, she said this). “They seem squeakier, whereas #2 [pastured] seems denser.” She also noted that #1 was “fluffier,” probably because there was less to them. Conclusion: if you like “fluffy” (non-dense) eggs, then supermarket. But if you want stronger flavor, pastured.
Sophie (age 6): “I like them both. Can I have some more?” Conclusion: no preference.
Then it was my turn. I shut my eyes, and Blair fed me the two sets of eggs, three different times (switching the order). I hadn’t tasted the eggs during the cooking process, so I really was “blind.” Each time, I chose the pastured eggs. I’ll note that my preference wasn’t strong. It’s just that the pastured eggs were a little…eggier. Conclusion: pastured.
So, there’s the fourth difference we noticed that morning: Taste. Every adult, save for the ones whose tastebuds were shot, noticed it.
The whole thing left me wondering whether pastured eggs are fundamentally more satisfying…to the point that we need to eat fewer to be “satisfied” (since there’s more nutrition packed into smaller amounts). I’m not sure quite how you’d test that in any kind of controlled way, but if I stumble across any research, I’ll let you know.
I’m told that the difference in flavor becomes even stronger as you add other ingredients (herbs, etc.). And by the way, the secret to the perfect scrambled egg? It’s apparently a double boiler.
Incidentally, it turns out I’m not the first to try the Egg Smackdown. And, oh, yeah, if you want to know more about eggs — including the questions to ask when you’re choosing your perfect egg, Expat’s got it all.
After the taste test was over, before digging in and eating what remained, the adults sat for a moment, looking at the pan, admiring the rich, golden color of the pastured eggs. The color was so intense it almost didn’t look real — like, if I’d gotten them in a diner, I might say “oh, my goodness, what is wrong with these eggs? They don’t look normal.” That’s how accustomed I’ve become to the washed-out color of eggs from factory-farmed chickens.
“Just look at that color,” Jenn said.
“Yeah,” I murmured.
Then Blair piped up. “That,” said my husband — my darling partner who is so frugal that he recently wrapped duct tape around his 9-year-old boots, in a desperate attempt to reattach the peeled-off soles, because he thought he could still ‘get a little more wear out of them’ — “is the color of money.”
We nodded. Then we shrugged and happily gobbled up what remained, everybody reaching first for the good stuff.