Many people have a preference when it comes to the color of their eggs.
Some prefer brown shells because they believe they are more natural and seem to taste better.
Others prefer their eggs white because they appear to be cleaner and more nutritious.
In this article, we will examine whether one type of egg is really healthier or better tasting than the rest.
What Determines Egg Shell Color?
Eggshells come in many different colors. At the supermarket, you will see brown and white eggs.
At the farmers market, you may see blue or even blue-green colored eggs.
The color of an eggshell depends entirely on the breed of the chicken. It is all based on genetics.
You may have heard that earlobe color can be used to determine eggshell color, but this is not true.
Some breeds like the Ameraucana and the Araucana chicken have red earlobes and produce a shell that is light blue in color.
Other breeds with red earlobes like the Rhode Island Reds produce brown eggs.
Some people believe that white-feathered chickens only lay white eggs and brown feathered chickens only lay brown eggs.
Feather color also does not determine shell color.
White feathered chickens can lay eggs that are white or brown, depending on the breed.
For example, chickens with white feathers like the white Leghorn chicken lay white eggs but white-feathered Delaware chickens lay brown eggs.
There are other factors that can have a small effect on shell color.
As hens (female chickens) age their eggs tend to get larger and lighter in color.
Stress, diet, and environment have also been shown to change shell color but only to a small degree (1).
In summary, the breed of the chicken is what determines the color of the egg shell.
Are Brown Eggs Better for You Than White Eggs?
No. In terms of nutrition, there is no difference.
The calories, fat, and protein in white and brown eggs are the same regardless of the color of the shell (2).
As the size of an egg increases the calorie and nutrient content will increase as well.
Both white and brown eggs are nutrient-dense super foods that belong in any healthy diet pattern.
One large egg contains 75 calories, 6 grams of protein, and is an excellent source of nutrients including 35% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of choline, 23% of the RDI of vitamin B12, and 7% of the RDI of vitamin D.
Changes to a hen’s diet have been proven to change the nutrients found in an egg.
For example, when flax seeds or fish oil rich in omega 3 fatty acids are added to a hen’s feed the omega-3 content of the eggs increases significantly (3).
A similar difference has been shown when vitamin D is added to a hen’s feed (4).
While shell color may not change the nutrient content, a hen’s diet certainly can.
Do Brown Eggs Taste Different Than White Eggs?
Some people believe that brown eggs taste better while others are loyal to the white egg.
When it comes to taste there is no difference between brown and white eggs. However, that is not to say that all eggs taste the same.
The diet of the hen, freshness of the egg, and how it is cooked can significantly influence the taste.
For example, when hens are fed very high levels of flaxseed there is a noticeable change in the smell and flavor of the egg (5).
Storage time can also affect the quality and taste.
The longer an egg is stored the more likely is it to develop an off-flavor. Keeps eggs in the refrigerator to help extend their shelf life.
Interestingly, the way an egg is cooked has also been shown to change it’s flavor.
One study found that hard-boiled eggs from chickens who had been fed fish oil had more of a sulfur flavor or “off-flavor” than scrambled eggs from chickens fed the same diet (6).
Why Are Brown Eggs More Expensive?
Historically hens that lay brown eggs produced a smaller number of eggs than hens who laid white eggs.
Because of the lower number of eggs produced they were sold at a higher cost.
Today through selective breeding most hens produce a similar number of eggs, regardless of breed.
At the store, you may have noticed that many organic, free-range and pasture-raised chicken eggs are mostly brown.
Because of higher production costs, these eggs are more expensive.
Specialty eggs can make it seem like brown eggs are more expensive, while in reality there is no difference in cost between conventional white and brown eggs.
What Really Matters?
While the difference between brown and white eggs comes down to genetics, there are many other factors to take into account when shopping for eggs at the grocery store.
Here are some terms that can help you choose the best eggs.
These are the cheapest eggs at the supermarket.
Conventionally raised hens are fed a grain-based diet and given no access to the outdoors.
They often spend their lives confined in tiny battery cages that are no larger than a sheet of paper.
The term cage-free refers to conventionally raised hens that do not live in small cages.
They often live in crowded indoor barns with little room to move around. They are generally not provided access to the outdoors.
The term free-range is regulated by the USDA.
A free-range hen does not live in a cage and is provided outdoor access for at least part of the day.
This should lead to a better quality of life for free-range hens although it will have little effect on the nutritional quality of the egg.
Organically raised hens do not live in cages.
They are provided organic feed that has not been treated with pesticides or chemicals.
Outdoor access must be provided as part of the organic certification program. Organic certification does not address animal welfare standards.
This term is unregulated.
It implies that the hens are given ample outdoor access, allowed to forage and engage in their natural behaviors and eat a natural diet including insects and small plants.
Although many people prefer a certain shell color at the grocery store there is no real difference between brown color eggs and white ones.
Any difference is simply a matter of individual preference.
While shell color has nothing to do with quality, nutritional value, or taste, there are many factors to look out for when you are shopping for eggs.
Egg carton labels can tell you a lot about how the hens were treated and what they were fed.
Remember to take these differences into account and look beyond eggshell color next time you purchase eggs at the grocery store.
- Samiullah, S., et al. “Eggshell Color in Brown-Egg Laying Hens — a Review.” Poultry Science, vol. 94, no. 10, 2015, pp. 2566–75. Crossref, doi:10.3382/ps/pev202.
- Jones, D. R., et al. “Physical Quality and Composition of Retail Shell Eggs.” Poultry Science, vol. 89, no. 3, 2010, pp. 582–87. Crossref, doi:10.3382/ps.2009-00315.
- Samman, Samir, et al. “Fatty Acid Composition of Certified Organic, Conventional and Omega-3 Eggs.” Food Chemistry, vol. 116, no. 4, 2009, pp. 911–14. Crossref, doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2009.03.046.
- Yao, Linxing, et al. “Effects of Vitamin D3-Enriched Diet on Egg Yolk Vitamin D3Content and Yolk Quality.” Journal of Food Science, vol. 78, no. 2, 2013, pp. C178–83. Crossref, doi:10.1111/1750-3841.12032.
- Leeson, S., et al. “Organoleptic Evaluation of Eggs Produced by Laying Hens Fed Diets Containing Graded Levels of Flaxseed and Vitamin E.” Poultry Science, vol. 77, no. 9, 1998, pp. 1436–40. Crossref, doi:10.1093/ps77.9.1436.
- Lawlor, J. B., et al. “Fatty Acid Profile and Sensory Characteristics of Table Eggs from Laying Hens Fed Diets Containing Microencapsulated Fish Oil.” Animal Feed Science and Technology, vol. 156, no. 3–4, 2010, pp. 97–103. Crossref, doi:10.1016/j.anifeedsci.2010.01.003.