While there is no nutritional difference between brown and white eggs, there can be differences in nutrition depending on what the hen is fed.
Brown eggs and white eggs do not taste different, the most important thing is getting fresh eggs.
Brown eggs are more common in New England, where brown-laying breeds originated.
Brown or white? When it comes to buying eggs you probably choose out of habit, but the truth is the color of eggs doesn’t matter much. Brown eggs and white eggs might look different, but in terms of taste, nutrition, and uses they’re the same, says Ken Klippen, president of the National Association of Egg Farmers, who has a master’s degree in poultry science.
“There’s no taste difference and no nutritional difference,” Klippen says. Brown eggs simply have a pigment in the shell that white eggs don’t have, he explains.
Ultimately, the color of an egg tells you a little about the breed of chicken that laid it. Darker breeds tend to lay darker eggs, while white breeds lay white eggs.
However, other aspects of the hen’s health, especially what it was fed, could impact the nutritional value, taste, and texture of your eggs – regardless of color, Klippen says.
Here’s what you should know about brown versus white eggs, and what else to look for when purchasing your dozen.
Why are eggs white vs. brown?
To understand why some eggs are brown, it’s helpful to consider how eggs are produced.
The yolk of the egg – the ovum of the hen – enters the oviduct. As the yolk moves along, layers including the egg white and shell are added. That’s the same for all eggs, but for brown eggs there’s an extra step: At the end of the process, a pigment called protoporphyrin IX is added to the eggshell in dark-feathered hens.
The color of the egg is entirely dictated by the breed. You can tell what color egg a hen will produce by looking at its feathers or earlobes. In general, brown layers are American-origin breeds like Bovans Browns or New Hampshire Red, while white layers are Mediterranean-origin breeds like the Leghorn.
Why are brown eggs more expensive?
Most eggs sold in the United States are white, Klippen says. That’s because breeds like the Leghorn are smaller, but still produce lots of eggs, so they are more economical for farmers. This also explains why brown eggs are often more expensive.
“It takes more feed to feed and produce a dozen eggs for a brown-shelled egg layer, and that’s your primary expense in farming eggs,” he says.
Despite that, brown eggs are more common in New England, where brown-laying breeds originated. They’re also a more popular choice for free-range eggs, something that Klippen says is a marketing move.
“If consumers see something labeled cage-free, and it’s brown, they think of a farm,” he says. That holistic image can make people more willing to accept higher prices, says Klippen.
What to consider when buying eggs
Today, the choice of what eggs to buy goes beyond just white and brown. Here’s what some of those common labels you see on your egg cartons mean, according to Klippen:
Free-range: Eggs labeled free-range come from hens that have unlimited access to food, water, and outdoor spaces during their laying cycle.
Cage-free: Eggs labeled cage-free are from hens that have unlimited access to food and water, plus some room to roam.
Omega-3 enriched: These are eggs from hens that have been fed a diet with flaxseed, which contains omega-3 fatty acids. The eggs, therefore, have more omega-3, but much less than a serving of fish.
Organic: Organic eggs originate from chickens that have been fed a wholly organic diet. They usually have access to the outdoors as well, Klippen says.
Many eggs sold in the US are from caged chickens, Klippen says. These chickens have space to move around, Klippen says, but being in a cage with only a few other hens protects them from the violent pecking that hens do to each other. Spending on free-range or cage-free eggs doesn’t necessarily guarantee a more humane experience for the chicken, he says.
Some people opt to buy local or backyard eggs produced by a household or small farm. These eggs are not subject to the same refrigeration requirements as FDA-regulated commercial eggs, Klippen says.
If a farmer has fewer than 3,000 hens, they are not required to refrigerate eggs, so Klippen says that people buying local should make sure that the eggs they are purchasing have not been left in the sun, which could lead to bacterial growth, including salmonella.
“If the eggs sit in the sun for any length of time you could be exposing yourself to problems,” he says.
Looking at all the options for eggs can be overwhelming. While there is no taste or nutritional differences between brown and white eggs, there can be differences in nutrition depending on what the hen is fed.
The most important thing is getting fresh eggs, Klippen says. While taste tests have shown that most people can’t taste the difference between a fresh egg or one that is slightly older, there is a texture difference, Klippen says. Fresh eggs will be fluffy and full when cooked, while older eggs fall flat.
To get the freshest egg possible, Klippen recommends skipping all the fancy labels.
“When people ask me what is the best egg to buy, I tell them when you go into a retailer, look for the lowest cost eggs. Because consumers are price conscious, you’re going to get a fresher egg,” he says. “With a lower price, eggs turn over every day. If you buy just ordinary eggs, you should get eggs that are less than 48 hours old.”