A darker shade of pale

In the age of factory farms and food scientists, the color of an egg yolk doesn’t tell you as much as it used to…

See if you can guess the answer: What does farmed salmon and many brands of “pasture-raised” eggs in the grocery store have in common?

I’ll give you a hint: I’m dying to share the answer with you.

Bad puns aside, the answer is dyes. Farmed salmon, lacking the natural sources of dietary carotenoids that their wild counterparts consume, are fed dyes so that their flesh appears pink in color rather than a dull grey that the factory-farm approach to raising salmon otherwise creates.

Sadly, this type of consumer deception is happening with eggs these days as well.

We all know that the color of a yolk can be a great indicator of how much “pasture” a chicken consumes, but it is no longer a be-all end-all, and I suggest we all approach grocery store “pasture-raised” eggs with a fair amount of skepticism.

Why? A large portion of the grocery store “pasture-raised” egg industry has found that they can make their yolks darker by feeding their chickens a feed mixture that contains dye additives, compensating for the fact that their 10,000 chicken fixed-location barns have little to no grass nearby for the hens to eat.

While truly pasture-raised eggs have dark yellow/orange-colored yolks from the high levels of beta carotene in the hen’s diet (green grass in summer and hay in winter), the chickens living in the large barns that produce the imposter “grocery store pasture raised” eggs are often fed industry-approved dyes made from either marigold extract or paprika extract, or both. Both of these highly concentrated powders carry a lot of color potential and make the yolks much richer in color, tricking our eyes into believing that they came from hens eating a green grass buffet. This is deliberate misrepresentation.

Relying on faux-pastoral marketing and feed dyes rather than putting in the hard-work and extra cost to feed and raise their birds the right way is a rather disturbing indictment of the lengths industrial agriculture will go to mislead consumers by creating dark yolks with pale nutritional profiles.

When hens are raised naturally and in accordance with the seasons, their eggs will be change over the course of the year. Hens that range from a mobile chicken coop in the summer produce eggs with dark yolks because of all of the fresh grass they consume. To keep beta carotene levels as high as possible in the cold months of winter and early spring, supplementing hay and alfalfa goes a long way. Hens love crunching up blades of dry grass, and they use grit (small rocks) to crush the grass and extract it’s nutrients. Hay might not make a yolk as dark as paprika powder, but it creates a better-tasting and better-for-you egg.

Although it’s not fun to hear about this type of food-deception, sometimes it’s important to shine a bit of light on the deceptive practices that can run rampant in the food/ag industry.

Seeing shouldn’t always be believing, and we all have to put in a little extra effort to wade through the murky waters of misleading food marketing.

Thanks for taking the time to read!

-Farmer Andre

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