What’s the Deal with White vs Brown Chicken Eggs?

Posted by Stacey Venzel
brown eggs

Have you ever wondered why brown eggs cost more than white eggs?

If you’ve ever pulled eggs off the refrigerated super market shelves, you’ve probably noticed the price differences between the many options. There are jumbo eggs and six-cartons, one dozen or two dozen. There are pasture-raised, cage-free, or free-range eggs, organic eggs and grade AA or grade B eggs, Omega-3 enriched eggs (chickens are fed a flax seed diet), and then there are white eggs and brown eggs.

A carton full of brown eggs is always more expensive at the grocery store than an equivalent carton of white eggs. To understand why this is the case, we first have to dive into the science behind different colors of egg shell.

While feather color can sometimes determine egg color–in that white-feathered chickens have white eggs and brown-feathered chickens lay brown eggs–it’s not always true. Within a breed, chickens can be differently colored, but all chickens in the same breed will lay the same colored eggs. Additionally, some chickens are black, and those chickens don’t lay black eggs.

chicken

The Leghorn chicken, for example, comes in a triple color variety of black, white, or brown chicken feathers. Yet, all Leghorns lay white eggs.

Some egg shell colors are more cream-colored, like the Faverolle chicken’s, and the Ameracauna lays blue eggs. Certain brown eggs even appear more pink than brown.

However, commercial breeds have, for the most part, been selectively bred to have feathers that are the same color as their eggs.

Instead of relying on a chicken’s feathers for predicting egg color, scientists suggest turning to the color of their earlobes for a more accurate–though also not 100 percent foolproof–prediction. Red earlobes typically result in brown eggs and a white earlobe color land white eggs.

eggs

Chicken ears do look different from human ears, but they’re there, colorful and on the side of the head.

But why do brown eggs cost more than white ones? They actually don’t have more nutritional value as touted by many health enthusiasts. Brown eggs cost more than white eggs because they take more energy to make, but there is no nutritional difference.

All chicken eggs start out white. A chicken’s uterus, or shell gland pouch, is traditionally called the “paint station” because this is where eggs get their coloring. If they are are to stay white, they pass right through without activating the pigmenting station. If they’re to be brown–or pink or blue or cream–they get “painted” here.

“Paint” production requires extra energy and nutrients, which comes in the form of food. That translates to farmers having to buy more feed for the same amount of brown-egg-laying chickens as white-egg-laying chickens.

chickens

Despite them eating more, the eggs produced are not more nutrient-rich. Egg coloring happens after the nutrient stage, so the nutrient value is already determined before the pigmentation comes about. Brown eggs are not synonymous with organic, either.

Stores tend to sell more white eggs than brown ones simply because of the prices. Consumers want cheaper eggs. Farmers also make more money if they follow the supply and demand, which results in more white eggs being commercially available.

This isn’t always the case, though, as regionally, some consumer trends show a preference for brown over white. New England is one example. It’s not known why brown eggs are purchased more than white eggs here, but it could simply be because farmers and egg producers just tend to have more brown eggs than white, thus making brown eggs more available–and the standard norm–than white eggs.

Check out Backyard Chickens’ full list of chickens and the egg colors in this handy chart.

What color eggs does your chicken lay? Which eggs do you buy? Tell us in the comments below.

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What’s the Deal with White vs Brown Chicken Eggs?