The Difference Between Brown and White Eggs

Emily Upton 16
Harriet W. asks: What is the difference between brown and white eggs?

eggsThere are all sorts of rumours surrounding brown eggs and white eggs. Some people say that brown eggs are better for you and contain more nutrients; some people think brown eggs taste better; some think that brown eggs are better for cooking things like quiches, while white eggs are better for baking cakes (or vice versa, depending on who you talk to).

We here at Today I Found Out are all about uncovering the truth amongst all of the myths, and so here is the fascinating difference between brown eggs and white eggs:

Brown eggs are brown. White eggs are white.

Seriously, brown or white, they are the same on the inside, with one minor caveat which we’ll get to in a minute that has nothing to do with whether the chicken is a brown egg layer or white.  But besides that caveat, a brown egg or a white egg will give you the same amount of nutrition, they taste the same, and they are equally delicious in quiches and cakes.

The two also have more or less the same shell thickness.  The differences in shell thickness that you may have observed likely has to do with the age of the chicken- young chickens lay eggs with shells that are typically harder than older chickens’ eggs, but this is true for both white and brown egg layers.

How the rumours started about brown eggs being “better” is thought to be because they are often more expensive at supermarkets. If something costs more, it has to be better quality or better for you, right? Not in this case (and not in many others either- increasing the price of something, sometimes drastically, is an occasionally used marketing trick to get people to think one product is better than a comparable cheaper product. Sometimes that’s true, but many times it’s not.)

As for egg prices, brown eggs cost more in part because the hens that lay them usually eat more, which means the hens cost more to keep per egg.  You see, white eggs are most often laid by white or light coloured hens with white ear lobes, while brown eggs are most often laid by red-feathered or brown / dark-feathered chickens with red ear lobes. (This is not a universal truth, just a general rule.  Further, the chicken’s ear lobes are really the indicator here, not the feathers, but there is a very strong correlation between ear lobe colour and feather colour, so feather colour can be a decent indicator too. Ultimately, egg colour is determined by genetics, but the ear-lobe / feather colour thing is a good, though slightly flawed indicator.)

In the end, red-lobed chickens tend to be larger than their white-lobed counterparts, which is why they eat more. The farmers need to get reimbursed for the extra feed somehow, so they up the price of the brown eggs.

This also explains why white eggs tend to be more popular in supermarkets. White-lobed chickens cost less for farmers to keep, which leads to cheaper eggs, which leads to grocers buying more white eggs to put on the shelves to offer this product cheaper to customers. White eggs are simply more cost-effective.

There is also a commonly touted myth that brown eggs taste better, and that’s why they’re more expensive. As noted, this white egg / brown egg taste difference is a myth.

But the potential difference in taste from one egg to another does lead us to our one caveat, though it isn’t anything to do with the colour of the egg—rather, it has to do with the chicken’s diet. Many chickens raised at home are brown-egg layers, while most of the chickens raised for commercial use are white-egg layers.  The different diets affect the taste of the eggs and even the colour of the yolk, similar to how diet can drastically affect the taste of the meat of some animal.

However, if you were to take one of those brown egg-laying chickens and raise it on the same food as a white egg laying chicken, their eggs would taste the same and be otherwise indistinguishable aside from the colour of the shell. If their diets are the same, the yolks will even be identical in colour.  Today, chickens raised for commercial purposes, whether layers of white eggs or brown, are all getting fed the same thing, with perhaps just a slight variance from company to company.  If you’ve had some brown eggs from a neighbor or a chicken of your own that’s fed a different diet than commercially fed chickens eat, then there may be a difference in taste.  It just doesn’t have anything to do with the colour of the egg.

So, if brown egg-laying chickens are more expensive to feed and to keep, why do farmers keep them around? The answer is that so many people buy into the “brown eggs are better” myth that brown eggs are still a viable business option. As long as people keep buying the more expensive eggs and are willing to pay marked up prices beyond factoring in the extra feed, farmers will keep raising chickens that lay them.

Of course, these days some of the most hotly debated arguments aren’t over white vs. brown eggs, but over the superior quality of organic vs. not organic eggs, or free range vs. cage eggs. While differences in diet can affect the taste, if you’re wondering about quality of the egg or nutritional value, a study done by D.R. Jones et al. through the Agricultural Research Service and published in Poultry Science in 2010 found that, ultimately, there is very little difference in the quality of eggs produced in these different ways.  The small differences they did find “varied without one egg type consistently maintaining the highest or lowest values.”

So, in the end, while there are small ways the composition and taste of chicken eggs can be influenced, the colour of the egg shell isn’t one of them.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy:

Bonus Facts:

  • Chickens were originally domesticated, not for food, but for cockfighting.  You can read more about this here.
  • Chicken eggs aren’t all brown and white. For instance, the Araucana and Ameraucana, rare breeds of chicken, actually lay “Easter eggs”—light blue and light green eggs. Both breeds originated in South America and were likely the cross between a few other blue egg-laying breeds.
  • It turns out it’s not just politicians that can live without brains, a chicken named Mike lived without his entire head for 18 months!
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 6.5 billion dozen eggs are produced every year, amounting to about $7 billion spent on eggs in the United States alone.
  • There are 25 billion chickens in the world, which means there are more of them than any other bird species—and everyone on the planet could have roughly 3 chickens each.
  • In general, chickens in their prime will lay about one egg per day, but their egg-laying capabilities depend on things like diet, the season and the weather.
  • Like many things egg-related, the food to feed chickens to produce the best-tasting egg seems to be up for debate, though many people seem to believe that corn-fed chickens produce the tastiest eggs.

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16 Comments »

  1. Ray February 17, 2014 at 4:17 am - Reply

    Well done Emily, I really enjoyed reading that. Having always wondered the difference about shell color if reference to the hens. Last week I read something about the ear lobe and you mentioned that too. Anyway, I just wanted you to know that I thought you did a really good job explaining this. Have a great day!

  2. Dan February 17, 2014 at 9:55 am - Reply

    While your main point may be sort of true, you miss the actual points by a country mile. Over 90% of the eggs laid in the US come from caged factory hens – so if ethical treatment of farm animals is not a concern for you, then have at your white eggs. Yes, they are cheaper – because the producer treats the birds like an biological machine: cheap input (food and living conditions) makes for cheap output. Typically that means using a breed of chicken that lays white eggs, so the correlation is causal not coincidental. White eggs are cheap because the farmer is cheap and the customer is cheap.
    But if you do care about where your food comes from, then even ‘cage-free’ should give you pause, and ‘free-range’ is a legally meaningless term for the most part. Chickens raised, not only with ‘access’ to the outdoors, but rather with meaningful, year round life on pastures lay eggs that are objectively better. These ‘pasture-raised’ chickens, who get to eat all the grass, bugs, herbs and critters they like, lay eggs that are nutritionally superior (just google Mother Earth New, Pasture Raised) and taste and look like eggs are supposed to – rich, golden yolks and deep, fluffy whites – without any sort of chemical adulteration (like the spurious addition of Omega3, or whatever the marketing supplement du jour is). Most small farmers are raising chickens like this, and the few national brands that there are adhere to very strict guidelines about what the term means. One thing is for sure; hens raised like this are happier and healthier.
    If you are going to write an article with such broad generalizations, then maybe you need to a little more of that finding out stuff. Or research as the rest of us call it. You’ll be amazed at what you can find out!

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven Hiskey February 17, 2014 at 5:26 pm - Reply

      @Dan: While your ethical points are valid, it wasn’t what this article is about. Also, the taste certainly is likely different as noted in the article (diet affects taste). That said, this part of your comment “These ‘pasture-raised’ chickens, who get to eat all the grass, bugs, herbs and critters they like, lay eggs that are nutritionally superior” isn’t backed up by research to date (quite the contrary), as noted in the article, nor is the “fluffy whites” part, which is also measured in the aforementioned study and while they found differences, they weren’t differences divided by things like free-range / caged, but rather just random amongst the samples.
      .
      “Or research as the rest of us call it.” I’d love to see the research you’ve found to support your comments. That would be interesting to include in the article assuming the methodology is sound in the particular studies.

  3. Miguel February 17, 2014 at 12:57 pm - Reply
    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven Hiskey February 17, 2014 at 5:18 pm - Reply

      @Miguel: Gizmodo copied that from us with permission. They re-publish a lot of our articles. You’ll also note that they mention that both in that Emily Upton is listed as the author there and in the footer they say something like “re-published with permission from TodayIFoundOut” :-)

      • Joseph August 8, 2014 at 11:47 am - Reply

        Damn, you just crushed his dreams of being an investigative journalist at Gawker.

  4. Amid October 9, 2014 at 8:32 am - Reply

    @Dan Although your concern about ethical part of the story is admirable , but with all do respect i think you didnt get the point of this article , i am a farmer and i produce 45000 egg per day , i must say to you that the article is absolutely right , the article is about the difference between white and brown egg , and you should be aware that both white and brown hens are kept in cage , unless the farmer decide to choose free run or cageless method of breed that is nothing to do with the color of hens or eggs , there are white hens that breed with free run method and there are brown hens that kept in cage , so that part that you said whites are cheap cause the farmer is cheap and the customer is cheap , is strongly wrong , and once again i should say the brown eggs are more expensive because of 3 reasons 1-the brown hens eat considerably more , compare 100 gr to 135 gr per day !!! 2-brown hens need more space because they are bigger (this means farmer can use less space of his farm) 3-they are less common !

  5. Ernest November 9, 2014 at 10:55 am - Reply

    So, basically, both white and brown eggs taste the same. That is a bummer. That makes brown eggs a ripoff.

    I just bought them 3 days ago because I thought that they would taste better than the white eggs do. I was wrong.

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