Decoding Egg Labels

I just realized that this is my third egg post in just a few weeks. Oops! I hope y’all like eggs as much as I do.

Anyhow, after a recent trip to the grocery store where I spent way too long scanning all the labels trying to decide which type of eggs I should buy, I decided it was time to do a little research to figure out what all the different labels mean. I figured many of you might want to know which eggs are best as well so I’m going to share my findings. Just in time for all the eggs we’ll be eating for Passover and Easter.

Decoding Egg Labels -- Which Eggs Are Best?

What do the labels really mean?

Pastured/Grass Fed

  • “free range” of grassy areas, perform their natural behaviors, and do not live primarily on grains or live in crowded warehouses
  • not necessary organic, although some farmers do use organic feed despite not having the “certified organic” label (ask your farmer about this)
  • some research has suggested that eggs coming from pastured hens may also be more nutritious than conventionally-produced eggs

Certified Organic

  • uncaged inside barns, and are required to have outdoor access, but the amount, duration, and quality of outdoor access is undefined
  • fed an organic, all-vegetarian diet free of antibiotics and pesticides, as required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program
  • beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted
  • compliance is verified through third-party auditing

Free-Range / Free-Roaming

  • free-range hens are uncaged inside barns and have some degree of outdoor access, but there are no requirements for the amount, duration or quality of outdoor access
  • there are no restrictions regarding what the birds can be fed
  • beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted
  • no third-party auditing

Cage-Free

  • uncaged inside barns, but they generally do not have access to the outdoors
  • can engage in many of their natural behaviors such as walking, nesting and spreading their wings
  • beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted
  • no third-party auditing

Conventional / Battery Caged

  • most egg-laying hens in the United States are confined in battery cages
  • each caged laying hen is afforded only 67 square inches of cage space (this is less space than a single sheet of letter-sized paper)
  • unable to engage in many of their natural behaviors such as walking, nesting and spreading their wings
  • beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted

Certified Humane (a program of Humane Farm Animal Care)

  • birds are uncaged inside barns but may be kept indoors at all times
  • must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching, and dust bathing
  • forced molting through starvation is prohibited, but beak cutting is allowed
  • compliance is verified through third-party auditing

Animal Welfare Approved (a program of the Animal Welfare Institute)*

  • the highest animal welfare standards of any third-party auditing program
  • birds are cage-free and continuous outdoor perching access is required
  • must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching and dust bathing
  • there are requirements for stocking density, perching, space and nesting boxes.
  • birds must be allowed to molt naturally
  • beak cutting is prohibited

*It seems as though eggs with this certification can be hard to find — I did a search for Animal Welfare Approved eggs on their website for Richmond, VA and found zero results.

Omega-3 Enriched Eggs

  • feed is supplemented with an Omega-3 source like flax seeds

Sources: The Humane Society & Authority Nutrition

So which eggs are best?

I think it depends on availably of the different types of eggs in your area and what you can afford. Given my research, pastured eggs are definitely my top choice. These hens are given the freedom to live happy, natural lives while eating grass, bugs and meal worms instead of a diet consisting only of grain. The issue is that pastured eggs are local, seasonal, and in limited supply so sometimes they’re hard to procure. They’re also more expensive.

At one point we had the luxury of buying our eggs from a family that raised pastured chickens at Isaac’s school. That’s no longer an option because they don’t raise chickens anymore but we still have a couple ways of procuring eggs from healthy, happy chickens: buying eggs directly from a local farmer at the farmers market. Again, this depends on the season and supply. My next choice would be free-range eggs (organic, when possible) and my last choice would be cage-free. I avoided conventional eggs, even prior to my research and I will continue to do so.

So with eggs at the top of mind, I recently had a company called the happy egg co. reach out to me about their eggs. They’re the first and only 100 percent free range egg company certified by Humane Farm Animal Care (see Certified Humane above) and give the hens, affectionately called “the Girls,” access to over four acres of pasture every day, which is about the size of three football fields or around 14 square feet per hen. This amount of space is way more than the free range requirement (2 square feet per hen) and the happy egg co. has plans to increase it from 14 to 20 square feet in the near future as well! The Girls spend every day outside in natural sunlight, able to forage for food and do normal activities similar to pastured hens. the happy egg co. has coined their method “free range on pasture” because the amount of space given falls between the free range and pasture requirements.

You can see all the family farms listed on their website too — I thought this was pretty cool!

the happy egg co.

Ooh, and do you know why some eggs are brown? I didn’t before checking out the happy egg co. site. It’s because they’re laid by brown chickens! Hens come in different colors, from white to brown to speckled charcoal gray and deep red. The eggs they lay are always close in hue to the color of their earlobes.

dyed Easter eggs

One cool tip I learned after spending an afternoon dyeing eggs is that the natural pigments in brown shells of eggs result in more jewel-like tones than the same coloring methods on white shelled eggs. This worked out great for me because the happy egg co. eggs are brown. Check out my art work. 🙂

dyed Easter eggs

Yes, I got to dye my own eggs this year! So fun.

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    93 comments
  1. Have you ever tried searching “the truth about the happy egg company”
    Not everything is ever how it appears to be or how it is labeled.

  2. I wish I could say something more healthy but you didn’t ask for that. Favorite egg is fried and on a piece of toast. 🙂
    Thanks for this post, very informative I wish there was a way for me to share it (I may go back and look) I know a lot of people are confused about this topic and this is one of the best explanations. Thanks for the hard work that we benefit from.

  3. I love using eggs as dressing/sauce on EVERYTHING! My latest favorite is sunny-side up eggs broken over a big bowl of spaghetti squash with some nutritional yeast and liquid aminos. Any green veggies added in give it a little extra green- SO GOOD! 🙂

  4. Smoked Salmon eggs benedict is my favorite! But I love pretty much everything egg related!

    Thanks so much for doing the research on this topic! I feel much better informed!!

  5. This has made me so hungry for eggs! Lately I’ve been loving them soft boiled or if I’m really treating myself – Eggs Benedict. Yum.

  6. Thanks for this helpful guide – definitely something to think about. I’ve gotten really into fried eggs with coconut oil lately!

  7. My favorite are poached eggs! They don’t feel overcooked, and there’s so much you can do with them. Yum. A soft boiled egg is pretty delicious too! Today though, I had a sunny side up egg next to my coconut yogurt, granola and fruit.

  8. Great article, very informative. I always hated eggs as a kid, but lately have found that I’ve developed a taste for them. The free range, organic, cage free, pastured, etc. eggs seem to have a better flavor than any of the traditional methods, so that helps, I’m sure.

    My favorite(s): over medium or over hard for a quick breakfast, but if I don’t have to cook it myself, Eggs Benedict every time!

  9. I love eggs, my favorite way to eat them is a fried egg over black beans & rice. Sounds strange but it’s delicious!

  10. We have 15 hens and 1 rooster; they are our pets and we work hard to ensure they have a wonderful life. Ironically, I am a vegan, although my boyfriend still eats eggs. When we bought our first chickens three years ago, I was amazed at how curious, active, and sociable they are. To think that the majority of chickens are housed in tiny, indoor cages, which is completely anathema to their natural inclinations, is truly appalling. However, it is important to understand that most chickens – even those kept in the most ideal, commercial circumstances, are culled every 2-3 years. By ‘culled’, you can safely assume this means they are slaughtered in a frightening and violent manner. A hen’s fertility greatly diminishes after the first 2-3 years, and egg-production declines accordingly. As such, most commercial egg-producers do not want to subsidize the maintenance of chickens who are not laying at the optimal level. We acquired several chickens that came from a pastured, organic operation, and they were the most physically unhealthy and mentally unstable chickens we have ever encountered. Both died prematurely. Incidentally, chickens can live up to 10 years, so keep in mind that if you eat eggs, you are far from an innocent bystander in a benign industry. Another thing to consider is that approximately 50% of baby chicks raised for egg-producing operations are culled (aka: brutally handled and killed) shortly after birth. They are casually thrown – ALIVE – into trash cans or crushing machines to suffocate in fear and complete helplessness. So, enjoy your eggs!

  11. Thanks for the info! Can’t wait for the day that I can raise my own chickens and not have to deal with these issues!

    My favorite way to eat eggs is a power meal: egg over-easy on top of quinoa with fresh parmesan flakes, shelled edemame, and a bit of cracked pepper. The way the yolk mixes with the earthy texture of the quinoa….mmmmm. My fiance thought I was crazy when I first made this, but now he’s hooked!

  12. I LOVE eggs any way I can get them! My most recent favorite way to eat them is cooked over medium in coconut oil and placed atop a bowl of hot beans, any type, (great northern, lima, black, kidney, etc!) Oh my heavens!!

  13. I love veggie frittatas! Sautéed onions, sweet peppers, and fresh spinach with crumbled feta on top of the frittata, YUM!

  14. I love family eggs. One of the guys I work with used to bring me 2 dozen every week. Oh yes, I love my eggs. Every morning, in an omelet, scrambled, and my family DEVOURS my egg salad as do my BFF and close friends at work. He quit bringing in eggs and I’ve been bummed having to buy them from the grocers. They are simply NOT the same! Would love to win! Thanks, Kelly

  15. Wow – great article. It makes me want to raise my own which many do here in Maine. My family and I eat eggs for all 3 meals and will be more sensitive as to where my eggs come from now on!

  16. I think this is a pretty popular answer, but egg sandwiches with avocado are the best! I also LOVE goat cheese and spinach/mushroom omelets.

  17. I have my eggs hard boiled most often because I can throw them in salads as well. But my favorite way to eat them has to be poached. Yum 🙂

  18. Breakfast Tacos for anytime of the day!!

    Fry up corn tortillas, scramble up some eggs, and then add the eggs guacamole, black beans (for added protein), and some spinach.
    Sometimes, my fiance and I scramble the eggs with parsley and it adds some naturally zesty flavor to our tacos. It’s my favorite to make Mexican fod!

  19. I literally could blow through 2 cartons of eggs a week! I eat them scrambled with veggies, or fried for breakfast. I love them boiled on salads or just for a quick snack.

  20. I love a soft boiled egg on top of sautéed kale with rice and edamame. I went vegan for lent and I really miss my eggs.

  21. I love eggs – my favorite way would be the way in an eggs benidict – so good!!!

    I also love dying eggs, my daughter and I every year dye about 3 dozen, so much fun seeing the results

  22. My favorite way to eat eggs is in an asian stir fry. Pineapple and cashew stir fry over rice to be exact. The key to it is the eggs that are fried in and the orange sauce that goes on top!

  23. Thanks for this useful info! I can’t wait for it to be farm market season so the search is much easier.

    My favorite breakfast is eggs & sauteed kale!

  24. Hard boiled eggs or deviled eggs (with greek yogurt) are my favorite ways to enjoy eggs!

    PS. Love this article. It was so informative and something I’ve been working towards, getting away from conventionally produced eggs. We go through 20 eggs in my household a week and I need to find a way to buy those babies in bulk!

  25. Just a little info for your research. There is a breed of chicken called Araucana or Ameraucana that is loosely referred to as the “Easter egg chicken” because it lays colored eggs in blue or green shades. Anywhere from turquoise to deep olive. When I was raising them, my eggs were on the pale side of blue/ green but were still very pretty. You’d have to find them from a local farmer. They’ll never be in a grocery store.

  26. Just a little more info for your research! There’s a breed of chicken call Araucana or Ameraucanas & they are loosely referred to as the “Easter egg chicken” because they lay colored eggs in blue or green shades. Anywhere from turquoise to deep olive. When I was raising them, my eggs were on the pale side of blue or green but they are still very pretty. You’d have to find them from a local farmer, certainly they’ll never be in a grocery store.

  27. I have been searching for a better tasting, more humane egg, and it sounds like the happy egg co. is exactly what I’ve been looking for. I grew up with a fiend whose family owned a farm, and I always loved going to her house to get fresh eggs. The taste difference is amazing!

    My favorite way to cook eggs is with sauteed onions, tomatoes, and green peppers (sometimes mushrooms) and a little goat or feta cheese to make an omelet. I’m also a big fan of juts some straight up scrambled eggs with a little salt and pepper.
    Thanks for the great info EBF!

  28. Thank you for all the wonderful information. I have an egg or two every day, either for breakfast or hard boiled as a snack. They keep me full for a long time so I’m not tempted by all the “goodies” brought in by coworkers at the office. Thank you to the beautiful chickens and hopefully people will become more educated about how their food is produced and can make better choices about what they put in their bodies.

  29. I stopped eating eggs for awhile because of these issues. Good to know that there is an alternative. I miss deviled eggs!

  30. It’s awful with all these mid-leading labels. Did you see the latest on Kroger’s “all-natural” chicken breasts?
    I love eating cheesy egg sandwiches. I eat entirely too many.
    PS- that’s so cool about Isaac’s school and the eggs!

  31. Toast an english muffin, top with goat cheese, sauteed garlic spinach and poached egg, sea salt and cracked pepper. Delish!

  32. I love poached eggs with avocado! Because I like to eat my eggs fairly plain, I’d love to taste the difference in these free-range, certified-humane eggs! YUM

  33. I just made hummus deviled eggs–I combined the yolks with sweet red pepper hummus, added in some olive oil, sea salt, and paprika, NO mayo! So tasty! The descriptions of the different types of eggs was very helpful, and very sad. :[

  34. i love egg omelettes ! my fiancé makes them so good. he adds two different cheeses, mushrooms, tomatoes and onions. i love eating it with sour cream.

  35. I make a quiche that most everyone in my family loves. It is a spinach leek bacon quiche. I do not put spinach in it anymore since my father is on blood thinners. But I put Canadian bacon and a leek soup mix and about 8- eggs and cheese and milk and a little bit of seasoning. It goes in a hurry.

  36. eggs are my FAVORITE source of animal protein. they are the perfect food…
    i also think pasture-raised eggs are best, and i try to purchase those. when my wallet is suffering, i opt for at least cage-free or organic.

    my favorite way to eat eggs is so simple: soft-boiled!
    i looooove runny yolk, and i adore how it oozes out when my fork sinks into it. i often dip my toast or just let it cover my plate 🙂

    but for a recipe, if i have an abundance of eggs, i like to use them in a frittata. the fillings will vary including roasted veggies, sundried tomatoes, greens, and even sweet potatoes!

  37. I love sauteing veggies then cracking an egg or two over it, beyond delicious! Right now I’m loving onions, asparagus, and mushrooms. My finance calls them “Corey eggs”. I also love dying eggs for Easter. My mom and I always do silk dyed eggs, they turn out so unique and beautiful.

  38. My favorite way is to make an omelet (I feel like I’m spelling that wrong) with some cheese curds from our local farmer’s market and scallions.

  39. I love poached eggs over roasted veggies like asparagus and Brussels sprouts. Thanks for all the great info on eggs! Very helpful!

  40. Oh my gosh! I love eggs on anything and everything. I usually do an egg scramble on sauteed or roasted veggies!

  41. I’ve only started eating eggs (well back in Jan after 6 years of being vegan) and I’m loving them! Would only ever buy organic though unless they were from a farmer’s back yard whom I knew or a friend with hens as I don’t want to put antibiotics or anything from a potentially GMO food fed hen in to my body…

  42. I am completely stunned by the cruelty in the American food industry–I don’t know how I was so oblivious to this for my entire life? Thank you for pointing this out–I had no idea about everything that goes on in the egg industry. One benefit of living in a developing country is that since we’re about 50 years behind the U.S., most things are naturally “organic” and “local” since farmers simply don’t have access to all of the new techniques, chemicals and machinery. Thanks for sharing your research on this topic!

  43. I love a good hard boiled egg for an afternoon snack!

    I begged my bf to dye eggs with me before Easter. We may be in our late 20s…but I’m still so excited to do it!

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