The TV jingle used to crow, “brown eggs are local eggs and local eggs are fresh.”
What about blue eggs? White? Off-white? Sage green? At Menagerie Farm in Vassalboro, multi-hued, free-range, organic orbs laid by 48 hard-working fowl sell within days.
“Free range makes a huge difference. The yolks are orange rather than pale yellow, which you find in store-bought eggs. They are not rubbery, but fresh,” Karmyn Costa, farm owner and chicken caretaker in chief, said.
As the farmers market season shifts into high gear and “fresh eggs” signs dot the landscape, it’s a good time for an egg primer.
Here’s a rule of thumb: The color of the shell reflects the breed of the bird. Chickens with white feathers typically lay white eggs; breeds with brown feathers lay brown eggs. Multi-colored feathered friends are a mixed bag.
Does the color change the taste? “I haven’t noticed that it does,” Costa said.
The biggest difference comes from their diet, not their shade. Egg-lovers pay a premium for pastured birds that dine organically — anywhere from $4 to $6 per dozen. The farmer pays double in organic feed, Costa explained, so “it’s not a huge profit. But people really like it.”
Brown eggs are a hot commercial product, according to Dennis Bowden, who only raises ISA browns, a hybrid breed, at Bowden’s Egg Farm in Waldoboro to meet consumer demand. “You are all in or all out,” he said of his 7,000-strong free-range brood.
The independent egg producer sells to stores and restaurants from Bangor to Freeport. “I think the brown egg is tastier than the white egg. It’s a better flavor,” he said. “I can tell if an Egg McMuffin is made with white or brown eggs.”
In the three years Costa has raised birds on Menagerie Farm there is “more talk about farm-fresh eggs. They are more popular and what people want.” And that usually means a colorful lot.
Mixed dozens, filled with multi-colored eggs in various shapes, are a hit with her customers. She sells out of all styles halfway through the Augusta farmers market where she hawks eggs on Saturdays.
“People usually say ‘I love the eggs. They are so big. The ISA browns are delicious,’” she said.
Costa recommends tasting eggs side by side to determine your favorite. “Most people like the brown over the white.”
Beyond the optics, free-range eggs are loaded with health benefits.
A study conducted by Mother Earth News determined pastured eggs have three to six times as much vitamin D, two times more Omega-3 fatty acids and less cholesterol and saturated fat.
What you should know about egg color
Light brown: Come from ISA brown hens. They lay a prodigious amount of extra-large eggs, “every day, from now until the days get shorter,” Costa said. Size often is jumbo.
Dark brown: From the Plymouth barred rock. A large egg.
White: Ranges in size from medium to extra large by the classic white leghorns.
Off-white: “Haven’t figured out which one she is,” Costa said.
Green/blue The heritage breed chicken Araucana, a multi-colored bird, produces a different shade of green. “Some people like the green. They don’t lay quite as well as the others and they are on the small size. We do them for the granddaughters,” Costa said. “They like them.”
Pinkish or purplish eggs: Also Araucana.
Best way to cook farm fresh eggs: “Fry them in butter. You really notice the freshness. The texture is best. You have to be careful when you flip them,” Costa warns, because they are “not as sturdy as store eggs.”
Don’t hard boil right away: Let them sit in the refrigerator for a week “or you’ll end up with a mess.”
Farmer’s favorite egg dish: “Quiche is a good thing. I’ll use vegetables, greens are great, spinach, broccoli, cheese — whatever I have. Or just crack them in a frying pan. Three large eggs for two people does the trick,” Costa said.