Are eggs all they’re cracked up to be?
By Maggie Blackwell
For The Salisbury Post
A recent trip to the manicure shop provided access to enough women who cook to ask, what would you like to see on the Post’s food page? Simple foods, they said. Foods that I don’t have to go find ingredients for, they said.
And, they said, what is it with eggs these days? I don’t know what kind to buy anymore.
Eggs. It used to be so simple. The egg industry is probably the most aggressive of all industries in trying to ride the organic wave. No surprise. In the 1980s, annual egg consumption dropped from an average of 360 eggs per person, to about 234. Multiply that by all the egg-eaters in the U.S., and that’s quite a dive. They have developed a complex marketing campaign to once again encourage the consumption of eggs.
Eggs provide more protein per penny than other protein sources, as shown in the accompanying chart. In addition, eggs provide important nutrients, some of which are hard to find just about anywhere else.
So what are the available choices at your local supermarket, and how do you make the best choice?
Normal, old-time, generic eggs. These eggs are the choice for you if economy is your only priority. The hens who produce the eggs are kept in very small cages in a battery-type environment. A medium egg provides 73 calories, 5.3 grams of fat, with only 1.4 of it saturated, 206 mg cholesterol, 0.1 gram carbohydrate, and 6.2 grams of protein.
Vegetarian eggs. These eggs give roughly the same nutrition as generic eggs, but the hens are given feed that has no animal by-products. If you have concerns about what animal by-products are fed to hens, this is your egg. You should know, however, that chickens in the wild, if there were any, would not be vegetarians.
Cage-free eggs. These eggs give about the same nutrition as generic eggs, also, but the hens are not kept in cages. Most reports seems to indicate, however, that the hens are not happily flapping around a barnyard, but sit shoulder-to-shoulder with other hens on shelves in the facility. They do not necessarily have the option to walk or move about. This egg is your choice if you object to caging hens.
Free-range eggs. This is probably the most controversial sector of eggs. These eggs are from hens that have access to the outdoors. Because this term is not regulated, the access may be a small door at the end of the henhouse, through which no hens actually ever go. The eggs are not necessarily organic. IF the hens are actually “pastured” hens, they are able to eat worms and grubs, which is their natural diet, and they also have likely had exercise, which many think creates a healthier egg.
If the eggs are not labeled as organic, however, the hens may have been given antibiotics and other additives.
Omega-3 enriched eggs. Hens have been given feed with higher Omega-3 and vitamin E than normal feed. This translates into eggs with more Omega-3, a chemical that “supportive but not conclusive evidence indicates may help in preventing coronary disease,” according to the Food and Drug Administration. If your family has heart or blood pressure concerns, and you are not concerned about antibiotics or other additives, this egg may be your choice.
Organic eggs. Organic eggs have been certified to adhere to strict guidelines. These guidelines are regulated, so there is no option for various interpretations. The eggs are from hens that are fed certified organic feed ó without the use of pesticides, insecticides, and artificial fertilizers. The hens cannot be fed antibiotics and conditions must comply with strict humane practice codes.
These eggs tend to be naturally richer in many nutrients, including omega-3 fats and vitamin E, due to the high quality of feed used. As a result of the more expensive feed, these eggs tend to be more expensive. If health is your family’s priority, this is your egg.
My family has access to someone who raises hens in a free environment. He gives them high-quality feed. They walk around, eat worms, and “dust their wings,” which is a habit happy hens have to fulfill. The eggs we buy from him were collected that morning, an important factor to me, because the average egg at the supermarket is already almost 3 weeks old, according to the book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” by Michael Pollan.
The farm eggs we buy are visually different from generic, store-bought eggs. The yolks on the farm eggs sit up like a little basketball and are more orange-y. The cheap egg looks just anemic by comparison. The egg whites are clearer on the farm egg, with the cheaper egg white looking cloudy. I do hurry my eggs to the refrigerator and wash the outside before using them. And I pay significantly more for my fresh, antibiotic-free eggs than I would for generic eggs at the store. These eggs meet my family’s priorities.
According to the USDA, pastured eggs are more nutritious than generic eggs, as well, providing 8 percent more Selenium, 15 percent more lutein, 25 percent more vitamin E, and 5 percent more DHA.
When considering the cholesterol of an egg, be aware of what you serve with it! Cooking an egg in butter can raise the overall cholesterol of the meal, as can a side of bacon.
I have made this quiche recipe about a zillion times with a variety of fillings. Although it was originally a recipe for tuna quiche, I have modified it through the years to be an anything quiche. You can use such fillings as broccoli, asparagus, cubed ham or crumbled bacon. Come up with your own!
It takes 5 minutes to throw together and an hour to bake and cool. This quiche serves four hearty eaters or six if other side dishes are included in the meal. It goes beautifully with a tossed salad; the quiche provides your protein, vegetable, and dairy.
1 tall can evaporated milk or 13 ounces milk
1 C. grated cheese (use what goes with your filling. With broccoli, I use sharp cheddar.)
1a C. filling: chopped raw broccoli (peel and chop the stems, too!), or asparagus, or chopped ham, or crumbled bacon
1 refrigerated pie crust (or make your own)
Optional items, depending on your filling
Handful of chopped onion
3 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1 Tbsp. chopped chives
1-2 finely chopped garlic cloves
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Unroll pie crust and lay in 9-inch deep-dish pie pan; flute edges. Place broccoli, etc., in pie crust and move it around so it is evenly distributed in pie pan. Loosely whisk eggs in a bowl and add milk; stir. Pour over filling. Sprinkle cheese over top and put in 450 degree oven for 15 minutes only. This sets the crust. After 15 minutes, turn temperature down to 350 degrees and bake for 30 minutes more.Remove from oven and allow to set for 15 minutes before slicing and serving. If you don’t wait, the water from the vegetables will make the quiche slices runny and unattractive.
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