Even eggheads have trouble deciphering the dozens of labels on today’s egg cartons. Here’s a glossary to decode some of the most common ones, plus a guide to egg sizes.
Grade A: The type typically available in stores, Grade A eggs promise a firm white, meaning they hold their shape well if fried, for example.
Brown: Shell color depends on the breed of the hen, but there is no nutritional advantage.
Free range: This term is not regulated, but it usually means hens are uncaged indoors with some sort of outdoor access at all times.
Cage-free: Though there is no regulation of this term, it usually means hens are uncaged indoors with no outdoor access.
Fertile: Hens live uncaged with roosters; the fertilized eggs are then stored at a temperature below which the eggs could grow and hatch. Despite popular belief, there is no evidence to show that fertile eggs are more nutritious.
Hormone-free: Since hormones are not approved for egg production, this term is unnecessary.
High in omega-3 fatty acids: Chickens are fed a diet high in omega 3s, such as flaxseed or kelp, which makes the eggs higher in omega 3s, promoting human heart and brain health.
Natural: This term doesn’t mean anything, since there are no regulations around its use.
Organic: Chickens are fed an organic, vegetarian diet, given no antibiotics, and caged indoors with some sort of outdoor access (though there are no rules as to how frequent the access is or what the outdoor space is like).
Pasteurized: These eggs are heated to destroy salmonella; look for this label if you’re making a recipe that calls for raw or barely cooked eggs.
Pasture-raised: There’s no regulation of this term, but it suggests that at least some of the hens’ diet comes from grass, worms and bugs, which may improve taste and nutritional content.
United Egg Producers Certified: This certification forbids forced molting through starvation (a once common practice to reduce the cost of eggs by reducing the cost of feeding hens), but allows beak trimming and small cages.
Animal welfare approved: The highest level of certification available, this new label applies to independent family farms only and means hens are cage-free and can’t have their beaks trimmed or be fed animal byproducts.
For best results, be sure to use the egg size specified in your recipe:
||2 1/2 oz.|
||2 1/4 oz.|
||1 3/4 oz.|
Keeping Eggs Fresh
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket; keep them in their carton instead. Check out the rest of our tips to keep your eggs at their freshest.
- Store eggs in their original carton on a shelf, not in the door, which doesn’t stay as cold as the rest of your fridge. Keeping eggs in their carton also reduces the chance that odors from your refrigerator will affect the taste of your eggs, since eggshells are semi-permeable.
- For peak freshness, use eggs within five weeks of purchase.
- Hard-boiled eggs should be eaten within a week, since the cooking process removes a protective coating from the shell, making it more susceptible to contamination. A green ring around the yolk is a sign that a hard-boiled egg has been overcooked, though it’s perfectly safe to consume.
- To see if eggs are still good, put them in a bowl of cold water; if they sink, they’re fresh.
- A cloudy egg white is the sign of a very fresh egg, while a clear white means the egg is old.