Guide to eggs including types of eggs, sizes and nutritional information.
What would we do without eggs?
Whether you're cooking breakfast, lunch or dinner, eggs will most likely figure in at least one meal a day. The egg may be the main part of the meal or they may be incorporated into a delicious homemade recipe.
There's no doubt that eggs feature in many of the pre-cooked and prepared products that we find on our supermarket shelves today.
Eggs are so versatile. They may be boiled - hard or soft, poached, fried, scrambled or even baked, used to make an omelette, soufflé, meringue or pancake batter. They can be added to savoury or sweet dishes, used to bind ingredients, coat ingredients, glaze pies or scones, the list is endless.
Other pages in our eggs section
Years ago buying eggs was simple and the only choice you had to make was which size to purchase and whether you wanted brown or white eggs.
Nowadays, there are several types of eggs that you can buy, which depend on the conditions in which the chicken is raised and whether the eggs have been enhanced in any way with extra vitamins or fatty acids.
Below is a guide and explanation to the different types of eggs available on the market and other information about the size, grade and colour of eggs.
Finally, more and more people are worried about the high cholesterol content found in eggs and therefore tend to consume fewer eggs than before. For this reason, the final section is a guide to the nutritional value of eggs, which will explain exactly how much cholesterol is found in eggs, which other vitamins they contain and whether they really are as bad for you as some claim they are.
Standard eggs, otherwise known as regular eggs, commercially produced eggs, conventional eggs, battery farm eggs or just "eggs" are unfortunately the most common type of eggs found in our supermarkets and shops.
The chickens are kept in small cages, anything between 3 - 7 hens per cage, so there is not enough room for the hens to exercise.
Thousands of these cages are found in large artificially lit sheds that can contain from around 20,000 - 100,000 birds altogether. The hens are fed a high protein diet containing antibiotics, hormones and other chemicals.
Obviously, due to a high output and minimum care for the birds, the cost of this type of egg is low and therefore standard eggs are the cheapest eggs that you can buy in the shops. This is all well and good for the consumer, yet the hens may suffer and many people would like to see battery farming banned.
The hens are kept indoors, in large barns covered with straw and are separated into pens rather than into small cages. The hens have much more room to move around and are able to carry out their natural activities, such as spreading their wings, scratching for food and even socialising with other hens.
This method of egg farming has been approved by the RSPCA and is considered a much more humane way to keep hens. Some say that a happier and healthier hen produces a better quality egg.
Organic eggs come from hens that have outdoor access during the day and are able to run around outside in an area covered with natural vegetation. They are fed a wholly organic grain feed, which has been organically grown and therefore must not contain any pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. The birds are raised healthily, in a healthy environment and are fed only natural ingredients. They are not given any antibiotics, hormones or meat by-products to fatten them up or make them grow bigger.
Once the eggs are laid, no artificial colouring or vitamins are added, which accounts for the paler colour of the yolk. Most people immediately notice a difference in the taste of organic eggs also.
Although organic eggs are more expensive than regular eggs, at least you know what you are putting into your body and that the hen that laid the eggs has been well cared for.
Free-range eggs are produced by hens that have daily access to an outdoor area with vegetation (weather permitting), although they are housed for the majority of the time in large barns. Even though the hens are housed indoors, they are never kept locked up in cages and the size of the flock is regulated. They are able to wander around and exercise even whilst they are kept indoors.
This type of eggs is produced by hens that are only fed a vegetarian diet, thus not consuming any meat or fish products. The hens are kept in cages and therefore are not classed as "free-range".
Hens that produce omega-3 enhanced eggs are fed a special vegetarian diet that consists of canola, linseed and flax seed. These products are all rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, which means that the eggs produced all contain higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than other types of eggs.
Omega-3 fatty acids are primarily found in oily fish and therefore most people do not consume adequate levels of this beneficial fatty acid. Although this type of egg is healthier, the hens that lay the eggs are kept in unhealthy conditions and live in small cages known as battery cages.
Vitamin enhanced eggs
Hens are fed extra amounts of certain vitamins such as vitamins E, B6 and B12. This results in higher amounts of these vitamins contained in this type of egg.
Egg shell colour
Eggs are either brown or white. Some people think that brown eggs are healthier than white eggs, although this is a myth and there is no reason to think this. Maybe they are comparing eggs to brown and white bread!
Basically, it all boils down to the breed of the hen that lays the egg. Hens with white feathers and white ear lobes lay white eggs and hens with red feathers and red ear lobes lay brown eggs. There is absolutely no nutritional difference between white or brown eggs, neither one is better or healthier than the other.
Brown eggs may be more expensive than white eggs, but this is only due to the fact that brown hens are larger and therefore need more food.
Egg yolk colour
There is nothing more mouth-watering than a delicious boiled or fried egg with a bright yellow shiny yolk. A paler yolk does not mean that the egg is bad or less tasty, it just means that the hen was fed a diet with paler ingredients. That is to say, bright chicken feed equals bright yellow egg yolk.
Not all hens lay eggs of the same size. The size of an egg depends on several factors, for example the breed of the hen, the weight of the hen, the hen's age, what the hen was fed on and the environment in which the hen was brought up.
Although there are quite a number of different sized eggs, the sizes that you will see on your supermarket shelves will be medium, large and extra large.
The majority of cooking recipes will specify for large eggs however, you could use the equivalent in medium or extra large eggs.
- 1 large egg is the equivalent of 1 medium egg or 1 extra large egg.
- 2 large eggs is the equivalent of 2 medium eggs or 2 extra large eggs.
- 3 large eggs is the equivalent of 4 medium eggs or 3 extra large eggs.
- 4 large eggs is the equivalent of 5 medium eggs or 4 extra large eggs.
- 5 large eggs is the equivalent of 6 medium eggs or 5 extra large eggs.
Eggs are sized on their weight. Therefore, medium eggs weigh between 53 - 63g, large eggs weigh between 63 - 73g and extra large eggs weigh more than 73g.
Eggs are graded according to their quality. There are three grades: AA, A and B. In our supermarkets we will find grade AA and A eggs. Lower quality grade B eggs are used in the commercially produced foods that we find in our shops and supermarkets.
It is not only the appearance of the shell that is graded, but the contents are also considered too. The eggs pass in front of a special bright light so that the contents of the egg can be seen.
Grade AA eggs are slightly fresher than grade A eggs however, consumers will not really see any difference between the two grades.
Nutritional value of eggs
Eggs are a fantastic food that contain a huge number of vitamins and minerals that are required by the body for optimal health and growth. They are also an excellent and affordable source of protein, which is needed to provide essential amino acids to the body.
One large hard-boiled egg only contains 78 calories and 5.3g of fat, with only 1.6 of those grams of fat being saturated fat, which are not good for the body and can lead to cardiovascular and heart disease.
The level of cholesterol in eggs is high (212mg in 1 large hard-boiled egg), however recent research has discovered that the level of cholesterol contained in a food, has little significance to the amount of cholesterol contained in a person's blood.
In other words, if you consume a food that is rich in cholesterol, it does not mean that the cholesterol levels in your blood will rise.
It has been discovered that it is in fact the amount of saturated fat in a food that is responsible for the rise in a person's blood cholesterol levels and is a risk factor of heart disease. Foods such as cakes, biscuits, crisps and processed foods are high in saturated fats.
As a result of these recent findings, healthy people do not have to limit their consumption of eggs to two a week, as they could be losing out on the many other beneficial properties of eggs.
Eggs also provide significant amounts of vitamin A, B, D and E and are rich in calcium, iron, selenium, phosphorous, potassium, riboflavin, sodium and magnesium. They are low in sugar and do not contain any carbohydrates.