Does the color of egg yolks mean anything nutritionally?

by (4073) Updated August 30, 2013 at 11:59 AM Created May 22, 2011 at 5:25 PM

I have two sources for pastured eggs. One source is exclusively from a red feathered breed--all the eggs are brown and have a deep yellow colored yolk. This yellow color is markedly more yellow than conventional store bought eggs, but still yellow nonetheless. The other egg source has eggs from several different types of breeds I assume since the shells are white, brown and pale bluish-green. But these eggs (no matter the color of the shell) have yolks that are bright orange. I have never seen yolks this color before, they are truly orange. Both sources taste delicious and my cats go nuts when I crack them open and want to eat the yolks (they are completely uninterested in conventional eggs).

Note: both sources are verified pastured eggs that are free to eat bugs, but I do not know what additional supplements/grains the chickens are fed, if any.

Why are some yolks yellow and some yolks orange? And does it even matter?

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12 Replies

6332 · May 22, 2011 at 5:41 PM

The colour of the yolk depends on the level of beta-carotene and xanthophylls like lutein present, and so is a reflection of the content of the hen's diet. In many cases, a deeper colour is indicative of a higher quality, more nutrient dense diet (and thus a more nutrient dense egg), although some farmers supplement their hen's diets either with artificial sources of these pigments, or natural supplements like marigold leaves, so it is not a strictly reliable test.

Shell thickness and strength is a fairly good informal guide to the health and life of the hen.

1035 · May 22, 2011 at 6:52 PM

A rich insect diet will naturally change the color of the yolk to dark orange. In our egg-laying flock that range our property our top foragers, the most intense insect hunters, lay the darkest-orange-yolk eggs. I did an N=1 experiment, where N was my flock. For several weeks I fed them each thin strips of raw grass-fed beef liver (strips the size of worms). This was based on the thought that insects are a rich source of iron. I made sure each hen got approx. the same amount of liver every day. And yes, after a few weeks all their yolks got even darker than they were before, even substantially darkening the yolks from birds that are my weakest foragers.

360 · August 25, 2011 at 9:00 PM

Yolk color isn't always the best way to determine health.

Eggs from Pastured Hens Better for Your Eyes

A new report reveals that eggs from hens raised on pasture are higher in lutein and zeaxanthin than eggs from chickens raised in confinement. Lutein and Zeaxanthin are natural substances similar to beta-carotene that protect your eyes from cataracts and a common cause of blindness called "macular degeneration." They may also protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Commercial egg producers add synthetic colorants to their feed to mimic the bright yellow yolks of eggs from pastured hens, A widely used additive is "canthaxantin." Canthaxantin can cause eye problems in humans. Farmed-raised salmon and trout are also fed canthaxantin to add more color to their pallid flesh. Due to public outcry, labels on farmed Atlantic salmon must now include the words "artificially colored" or "color added," in ¼ inch or larger letters. The same cautionary remark should be added to most egg cartons.

Where can you find eggs from pasture hens? Most of the premium or "natural" eggs in your supermarket are not from chickens raised on pasture. The term "cage-free" simply means that the hens are free to roam on a barn floor; typically, the hens have no access to grass. Organic eggs come from chickens fed organic ingredients. Typically, they, too, are raised in confinement. The same is true for chickens fed "vegetarian" feed. Grass makes the difference. It is rich in the natural carotenoids that are important to your health. You will find eggs from pastured hens at your local farmer's market and from producers listed in Eatwild.com.

Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. 2006, 54, 2267-2273.

859 · May 22, 2011 at 6:45 PM

The more access the hen has to bugs and worms, the more orange the egg yolk (can you say paleo eggs?). I would go with the mixed breed source with the orange yolks. Use the other source as a backup they are still better than organic 'cage free' eggs at the store.

And yes tartare is right, some commercial egg producers have caught on and are now feeding hens feed with coloring to make the yolks more yellow. That's only in commercial eggs though, I don't think these 'techniques' are too available for home growers.

One other thing to look for in eggs is two separate parts to the egg white. There will be a runny egg white and a more firm egg white around the yolk. The better eggs also spread less when cracked into the pan.

10 · June 13, 2013 at 1:14 AM

My wife and I have been free-ranging laying hens in the high mountains of Arizona for a couple of years now. Recently on a camp trip my wife broke open a couple of seriously orange yolk eggs, freaked out and tossed them away! The next day I cracked four more of the same batch over easy and gobbled them down, mmmmmmmmmmm. Then I did my internet research, I'm going to live!!!

880 · July 18, 2012 at 11:07 PM

Another thing to consider is if you are getting second hand soy! I've stopped feeding my chickens store bought chicken feed..even organic is soy loaded. I have friends who say my eggs are the only ones that don't give them stumach issues. Even the best pastured chickens (meat) I can find are still eating the bloody soy! Raising them myself is thus far the bests solution to this problem.

10 · July 18, 2012 at 10:29 PM

Hi folks, My name is John and I just came upon this site to find out why the egg yolks in Colombia, where I just returned from vacation, and also the ones I've had in Costa Rica are so orange. Thanks for the insight. It must be in the diet. Commercial US chickens are so cooped up and fed junk food. Also of interest, all the eggs sold in stores in Colombia are on unrefrigerated shelves and they're all brown and when the people bring them home they don't refrigerate them and they're perfectly fine. I guess they don't wash off the protective coating the US demands so that they can stay unrefrigerated for extended periods of time.

11071 · May 22, 2011 at 11:36 PM

My hens' yolks are a vibrant orange, and whenever we purchase pastured eggs, they are never as bright. Our girls eat lots of greens, and I believe that is a main factor...our eggs are also just better formed when cracked...they forage so much, that they hardly eat their crumbles...I imagine larger flocks would rely on their feed more out of necessity.

85 · May 22, 2011 at 7:42 PM

it's actually the pigments in grass that makes the yolks so bright...

0 · August 30, 2013 at 11:59 AM

Free-range eggs may be broader, and have more of an orange colour to their yolks due to the abundance of greens and insects in the diet of the birds. An orange yolk is, however, no guarantee that an egg was produced by a free-range hen. Feed additives such as marigold petal meal, dried algae, or alfalfa meal can be used to color the yolks. Soy products in their feed is 97% GMO, HORRID! I had eggs at the Windsor Hotel and the yolks were bright yellow, the waiter explained that yellow yolks denote organic free range, meaning the chickens are grass feed and forage for bugs and insects, there is no chicken feed given to them. Chicken feed contains soy plus coloring's for a deeper orange yolk, plus a lot of GMO stuff.

0 · January 28, 2013 at 8:46 PM

the chickens that we raise on the ranch i work on and live we feed the chickens lots of pulled up weeds and grass. also we feed them chicken feed and scraps from the scrap bucket we throw are scraps of food in and feed them that. I've noticed that the yolk is really orange. But when we put the eggs in the fridge the yolk turns to yellow. So i don't know if it is from not refrigerating the eggs that cause the orange yolk or what we feed them...

0 · October 05, 2012 at 3:52 PM

Chickens eat meat? My son is in FFA and raises chickens. I've never heard they can eat anything other than the feed given to them. They are in a raised pin due to animals that can dig under and get to them so they don't get insects off the ground. Any suggestions?

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