January 11, 2013

A yolk by any other color...is completely baffling

Chicken egg beautifully photographed by my father in Colorado, PhD.

Returning to the States for a visit with my family always highlights the many similarities and differences between the country where I live and the one where I grew up. One that never ceases to strike me as interesting is the color variation between Spanish egg yolks and American ones. It might be the jet lag, or maybe I'm just a dork, but I can't get over how much yellower yolks are in the USA when compared to their deeply orange Spanish cousins.

So, maybe I'm the last one on Earth to learn this fact, but it seems that the difference is in the diet of the hens and the amount of carotenoids that they consume. These organic pigments are found in plants and other things like algae and some bacteria and fungi. These are divided into two categories: carotenes and xanthophylls (whew. thanks Wikipedia). The former gives carrots their wonderful color (among other things), while the latter refers to oxygen-containing carotenoids such as lutein, which is found in leafy vegetables and as the predominant pigment in egg yolks. So, it can be inferred that a hen that eats large amounts of green leafy plants will get a lot of lutein. However, another factor that many people stand behind is the amount of insects that a hen consumes. Insect shells also contain carotenoids, which would therefore also contribute to an intense yolk color.

However, while all of this points to the fact that hens raised in pastures consume more carotenoids (lutein) overall, why is it that the pasture-raised, organic egg photographed by my friend Karen in Milwaukee,

Egg expertly cracked by Karen in Milwaukee

 and similarly pasture-raised, organic egg that I cracked open here in Spain, are still so different?

Egg less artfully photographed by me in Spain

Or maybe the real question should be, why do I care so much?
And the answer, I don't know. I just do.


Daniel Yustos said...

I throw a question: So the darker the better?

gastronomican said...

Good question. In theory, yes. But then how do I explain the darker yolk of the Spanish egg when the American one is also organic and free-range. And I'm not sure how much those things affect the final consumer in terms of nutrients. I will try to find out!

juan said...

The yolks of 'real' country eggs is, in my experience, a very pale yellow. They come from hens that eat whatever they can find, and a lot of leftovers from human food. They are very very tasty too.

Commercial 'organic' eggs include artificial colouring in the food they eat, because apparently people think that the more intense the color of the yolk, the better the egg.

gastronomican said...

I also read somewhere that in the States you are not allowed to add artificial coloring to eggs, but I don´t know about Spain. Although I wouldn´t imagine so - also the organic ones presumably wouldn´t have any.

Thanks for your comment!

Unknown said...

I'm so glad you brought up this subject, because I was starting to wonder if I was dreaming up the difference in color!

gastronomican said...

Hahaha! I know! never ceases to amaze me! thanks for your comment, Nygil!

Soria y ´tu said...

The colour of the yolk doesn´t mean that is a organic egg,this kind of orange is because the chikens were eating corn .That all.That is why you pay more for this eggs.The eal organic egg is the one that i eat in Soria Close tu Madrid.Check Soria y tu .Restaurantes en soria

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