The simple egg has become more confusing to buy as more varieties hit the shelves. Size is the simplest classification to navigate. Choose from medium (42g), large (50g), extra large (59g) and jumbo (67g). Method of production is more complex, with cage, free-range, barn-laid, liberty, omega-3 enriched, organic and vegetarian eggs on offer. (For a full run-down, see table below.) How you choose will come down to personal preference. If you're a vegetarian, then vegetarian eggs may appeal as the hens are fed a diet that contains no meat or fish. Bear in mind these eggs usually come from caged birds as farmers of free-range chickens can't control what hens eat from the ground. If you're concerned about animal welfare, opt for free-range, organic or liberty eggs. Omega-3 enriched eggs are great for people who don't like fish but want to enjoy the health benefits of fatty acids.
Do eggs contain antibiotics?
This is another common misconception antibiotics aren't used in the egg industry, except for veterinary purposes. All eggs produced by hens being treated with antibiotics are removed from the food chain and destroyed.
Are hormones used in egg production?
The Australian egg industry has never used hormones. You can be sure the only hormones in Australian hens are the ones they make themselves.
Why are some eggs more expensive?
Free-range, organic and specialty eggs cost more because they are more expensive to produce. For example, some hens are fed a special diet so they produce eggs with a higher omega-3 fat content. If you care about animal welfare and price is an issue, choose barn-laid liberty eggs as they are cheaper than the free-range variety yet accredited by the RSPCA.
How should I store them?
Keep eggs in the fridge and eat them before the use-by date. It's best to store eggs in the carton as their shells are porous and absorb other flavours and odours in the fridge. Once home in the fridge, don't use eggs that have been left out of the fridge for more than two hours or those with broken shells, as there is a risk of food poisoning.
How can I tell if an egg is fresh?
If you are unsure of the freshness of an egg, place it in a saucepan of water. A fresh egg will sink, while a stale egg will float as water is lost and the amount of air present increases with age. It's best to throw out a floating egg.
Why eat eggs?
Extremely nutritious, eggs are packed with 13 vitamins and minerals. In two large eggs you'll find 114mg of omega-3 fatty acids, 43µg of iodine, 41µg of selenium and 20% of your recommended daily protein intake. They are also a source of vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin A, folate and choline, a compound classified in the B-vitamin complex. By eating eggs you will increase your antioxidant intake, too.
What about cholesterol?
Research shows that eating eggs has no adverse effect on people with normal cholesterol levels. So, if your cholesterol is normal and your intake of saturated fat is low, an egg or two each day is fine. If your cholesterol is high, eat only two per week.
Types of eggs
Free-range: These eggs are produced by hens that are kept in sheds but are allowed to roam outdoors during the day and search for food. They return to the sheds for eating, drinking, roosting and laying.
Barn-laid: Hens are allowed to roam free within a shed, which may or may not have different tiers. Birds have the freedom to stretch and socialise, but beak trimming is often carried out to prevent hens hurting each other.
Cage: Most eggs sold in Australia are produced by hens that are continually housed in cages within sheds with precise environmental control. This system is said to control disease and protect hens from predators, but the cages prevent them from displaying normal behaviours and their bones may weaken as a result.
Liberty: These eggs are laid in barns that are inspected and accredited by the RSPCA on a regular basis. Liberty eggs are based on five RSPCA principles: freedom from fear and distress, freedom from pain and injury, freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, and freedom to express normal behaviour.
Omega-3 enriched: The hens are fed a special diet containing 10-20% linseed - a source of omega-3 fats. These eggs contain more omega-3 fatty acids than regular eggs.
Organic: Organic eggs must be produced under a specially credited free-range system where the hens' feed consists of 95% organically grown grain.
Vegetarian: Hens that produce vegetarian eggs are fed a special diet that does not contain any meat, fish or other animal products. They are usually cage-fed.
Did you know? Australian egg farmers produce on average 203 million dozen eggs each year.