With so many labels swarming around eggs these days, it’s hard to tell the difference between a “good egg” and a bad one. The titles given to supermarket eggs these days are intended to evoke images of bucolic pastures and hens lolling in the grass; unfortunately, this just isn’t the case for most cartons of commercially-available eggs—no matter how brown or speckled they appear. Here’s a quick breakdown of the some of the most common labels so you can navigate the landscape without feeling like you’re walking on, well, you know.
Local: Eggs labeled as local are sourced from a farm nearby—it’s worth checking out the farm yourself to observe the quality of care the hens receive.
Organic: These hens have been fed a vegetarian diet of organic feed, free of antibiotics and pesticides. Although they are kept uncaged and required outdoor access, the length of time allotted and quality of space isn’t permitted, which may mean a few short minutes a day and pavement, instead of grass or pasture.
Cage-free: Confined cages aren’t permitted—which is great—but outdoor access isn’t required and often not given. Beak cutting is allowed.
Natural: Pesticides and antibiotics on the feed are typically eschewed, although this label says nothing to the hens’ welfare. For the greatest transparency, get to know a local farmer and talk to them about their practices. It’s a worthwhile endeavor: Happier hens really do lay the most delicious eggs.
For more information on egg labeling, click here.
This list originally appeared in our March/April 2014 issue.