The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

CNHI Specials

January 14, 2014

Small eggs taste better

NEW YORK — When I heard that FreshDirect, a New York-based grocery delivery service, had begun selling "small farmer's eggs," I was skeptical. "They are eggs laid by young chickens that are smaller than typical eggs sold in grocery stores, and many farmers say they taste best," read the invitation to a press event at which the eggs would be served. The email went on to explain that these miniature eggs are usually sold to food processors or thrown away, and that buying them from FreshDirect would "create more profit for the farmers, helping to make organic farming more sustainable." It sounded bogus: FreshDirect wanted me to buy something that farmers usually throw away and was claiming this would help support sustainable agriculture?

But when I tasted my first "farmer's egg" - or pullet egg, as they're more traditionally and less poetically known - I found myself also eating crow: It really did taste better than the large eggs I usually buy at the grocery store. The white was less rubbery, and the yolk was far creamier. And it just tasted, well, eggier than most eggs - it was assertively savory on its own, whereas most eggs I've eaten require ample cheese and salt to mask their blandness. Mike Alderfer, the co-owner of the farm that supplies FreshDirect with pullet eggs, told me that young chickens are pickier eaters than older chickens, and their preference for corn results in richer-tasting eggs.

The experience made me wonder. Why, if pullet eggs taste better than bigger eggs, is it impossible to find small eggs at most grocery stores?

Part of the answer has to do with biology. Hens lay eggs for an average of 13 months total, beginning when they're about 18 weeks old. The older they get, the larger their eggs. (Farmers can manipulate egg size by tweaking the hens' feed or environment, but as a rule, egg size correlates with hens' age.) Hens produce small eggs - defined by the USDA as weighing between 18 and 21 ounces per dozen - only during the first month or so of their egg-laying careers. (Very young chickens occasionally lay "peewee eggs," weighing less than 18 ounces per dozen - and yes, "peewee" is the term the USDA uses.) Young chickens lay eggs fairly infrequently, just one every few days or so.

When hens get older, not only do their eggs get bigger, but they lay more frequently - up to an egg a day. "During a hen's most productive egg laying period is when the hen lays large size eggs," Elisa Maloberti, the director of egg product marketing for the American Egg Board, told me in an email. So most eggs laid by commercial hens are large eggs (defined by the USDA as weighing between 24 and 27 ounces per dozen).

This doesn't explain why it's virtually impossible to find small eggs at any retailer other than FreshDirect (and the occasional farmer's market) these days. But it does hint at a few possibilities. Not all of the eggs produced in this country are sold in grocery stores - many of them are sold to "breaking plants" that liquefy, freeze, or dry them for use in processed food products. The proportion of eggs processed in this way has increased over the past 30 years. Maloberti suspects that as the industry's demand for liquid, frozen, and dried eggs has increased, the more small eggs have been diverted from grocery stores to breaking plants.

But why isn't there consumer demand for small eggs? I suspect there's a feedback loop in play. Large eggs are the most commonly available egg size. Subsequently, recipe writers (including, I'm sorry to say, yours truly), develop recipes using large eggs. The ubiquity of recipes calling for large eggs increases consumer demand for large eggs. Repeat.

There may also be good, old-fashioned ignorance and size-chauvinism involved. Most people - including me, earlier this week - don't know that small eggs taste better. And if you're working from the assumption that all eggs taste the same, bigger eggs probably seem like a better deal.

               

But taste isn't the only reason to favor small eggs over large: Poultry experts say that laying large eggs is painful for hens, which, you know, makes sense. It's conceivable that lower demand for large eggs would lead to less chicken suffering. Industrial farmers often induce molting in egg-laying hens to extend the period of time during which they lay large eggs. If consumers prized pullet eggs, farmers might let hens follow a more natural production cycle instead of trying to maximize their output of large eggs.

Of course, most consumers don't have the privilege of buying pullet eggs, unless they live near an independent egg producer or in FreshDirect's delivery zone. But there are good reasons for people who do have access to pullet eggs to seek them out. If enough people ask for them, who knows? Producers might start selling them to grocery stores, instead of letting their flavor go to waste in processed foods.

 

1
Text Only
CNHI Specials
  • barbour021614.jpg No shows escaped death by Craigslist killer

    The young woman who says she was driven by satanic spirts to commit a cross-country murder spree over the last six years says authorities are not taking her claims seriously and that she tried to lured other central Pennslyvania men into her death snare with online companionship ads but they didn't show up.

    March 29, 2014 1 Photo 2 Stories

  • ent_jimmyfallon.jpg Jimmy Fallon's 'Tonight Show' debut: Social media reacts

    Jimmy Fallon kicked off a new era on "The Tonight Show" Monday night and garnered mostly positive reviews. Here's a sampling of reaction on social media.

    February 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • b_tuesday_eisenhower_20110405sg3371.jpg Augusta National removes 'Eisenhower Tree' after ice storm

    A 65-foot tree named after the nation's 34th president on the 17th hole at Augusta National Golf Club was removed over the weekend after sustaining "irreparable damage" during an ice storm at the home of the Masters Tournament.

    February 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140218-AMX-GUNS171.jpg Will smart guns transform the gun industry?

    One of California's largest firearm stores recently added a peculiar new gun to its shelves. It requires an accessory: a black waterproof watch.

    February 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • ten-10-dollar-bill.jpg VIDEO: Groupon claims 'President Hamilton' promotion an intentional mistake

    Groupon says a President's Day promotion mis-identifying Alexander Hamilton as a U.S. President was an "intentional" humorous mistake.

    February 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Samoas, Thin Mints and business ethics

    But these lessons aren't learned when Scouts sell outside grocery stores or via mobile app, or, even worse, when parents ask their colleagues to purchase Girl Scout cookies, a query I recently received at a casual work lunch. My friend wasn't prepared for the lecture that followed. I'd be more than happy to buy cookies from his daughter, I said, but only if she called me on the phone to personally ask for the sale.

    February 15, 2014

  • Screen shot 2014-02-14 at 12.27.23 PM.png VIDEO: Just how easy is it to buy a drone?

    Businesses can't wait for drone rules to be issued by the FAA. They really can't. Estimates on business drone usage are in the tens of thousands...and they're overwhelming the FAA, which is still trying to come up with rules for flying them.

    February 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Screen shot 2014-01-14 at 4.42.12 PM.png VIDEO: Man falls through golf shop ceiling; everyone plays it cool

    After a man falls through the ceiling of a professional golf shop both the patrons and the employees react as though everything is completely normal.

    January 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • ClarkTheCub.jpg Clark the Cub takes his place among pro sports' worst mascots

    The Chicago Cubs have broken 138 years of mascot-free tradition by introducing Clark the Cub, who will entertain young fans at Wrigley Field beginning this season. Judging from reaction on the Internet, Clark instantly deserves a place on the list of pro sports' worst mascots. Here are our ideas for some other entries.

    January 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 4.09.29 PM.png VIDEO: Texting crash caught on dash cam

    A 23-year-old Florida man admitted he was texting behind the wheel when his car veered off the road and crashed into a tree.

    January 14, 2014 1 Photo