With grocery prices on the rise, those of us on SKC budgets are having a hard time finding the best bang for our bucks. Food is a big line item in my budget, but I gotta draw the line somewhere. A few weeks ago, I brought you my thoughts on the pros and cons of pricey cinnamon. This time, I want to talk about eggs. I, too, was brought up in the Green Generation. I watched Captain Planet, and I love a chicken as much as the next gal, but I can’t be the only one who’s passed up a carton of cage-free beauties in favor of the cheaper, factory-farmed alternative. So let’s break it down.
An “organic” product is one that has not been sprayed with insecticide or injected with hormones. The hope is that organic chickens have lived a better life—USDA certified organic chickens are required to have access to the “outdoors,” although sometimes this can mean as little as an add-on porch. It’s worth noting, though, that the Humane Society recently announced its intention to seek Federal legislation to improve housing conditions for egg-laying hens. Many people are also under the impression that “organic” equals “healthy,” but according to the Mayo Clinic, there is no conclusive evidence that organic products are any healthier than industrially farmed eggs. However, generally, organic farming practices are more environment-friendly. And because they’re hormone-free, organic, cage-free chickens have probably lived a better life (however you choose to interpret that) and have in the very least not been hormonally altered.
But if we set aside the moral issues for a moment…what about the taste?
I compared your standard, everyday eggs to the more chicken-friendly cage-free variety in two ways. The first was to fry them side by side since I figured this was probably the best and simplest way to judge an egg. Then I wanted to bake them, to make sure I got a full picture of the profile of each specimen. I settled on my favorite fudgey brownie recipe (now complete with Saigon cinnamon) to give them a real run for their money. Here are my findings:
Standard Eggs. ($1.99/dozen at my local grocery store)
Overall Characteristics: These eggs look like they came from a factory. For all I know, they were made by robots. The yolk is a pale yellow color.
Fried: These fried up with thin whites and a runny yolk. Exactly as you would expect.
Baked: The finished product, while taking just a couple minutes longer in the oven to set, was virtually the same as the organic batter. However, the raw batter was decidedly runnier.
Organic Cage-Free Eggs. ($4.60/dozen at my local grocery store)
Overall Characteristics: These eggs are definitely prettier. I believe that a chicken lovingly and willingly popped these out for me to enjoy. A colleague of mine raises chickens at his house and occasionally brings me a carton of freshly-laid eggs. Their yolks are a bright orange color, which surprises me every time I crack one open. Interestingly, the yolks of packaged organic eggs do not look any different from their industrially-farmed counterparts. They were much paler and yellower than those I get from my farmer/cameraman-friend, much to my surprise.
Fried: The only difference noted was that the organic whites seemed to spread less than those of the non-organic eggs. Both times I made them, they came out a bit thicker and sturdier than the others. Aside from that, they tasted and looked identical.
Baked: The baked brownies seemed to dry out a little bit faster than the other batch–in fact, I took both of them out because I was afraid that the organic batch would overbake. They tasted the same, but the organic batter was definitely thicker and goopier.
Much to my surprise, these eggs tasted virtually indistinguishable. I could barely tell them apart visually, although the shells of the organic eggs were certainly prettier, and their whites were a little bit thicker and seemed less eager to spread out over the pan. And if you’re making brownie batter just for raw eats, you should note that the organic eggs produce a denser batter.
This is going to come down, ultimately, to your own personal cost/benefit calculus. If you just don’t have the money to shell out for organic eggs (and believe me, I know what that’s like—spending an extra couple bucks here and there really does add up), then your tastebuds will not complain if you come home with the cheap eggs. If, however, you just can’t shake that little voice in the back of your head pleading with you to be green and think of those poor PMSing chickens, that is also perfectly reasonable, and you may decide it’s worth it to you to fork over the extra cash. I expected the organic eggs to taste better and look more…organic. But at the end of the day, unless you’re on a farm with a small group of happy chickens being cared for by a cameraman and his 7 year-old daughter, you probably won’t even be able to tell the difference.
Lily graduated in 2009 from Harvard University with a degree in English Literature. While in college, she bartended and cooked at the campus pub, and as a result has a difficult time eating chicken wings. She is currently the Assistant Managing Editor for Small Kitchen College.