Everything You Want to Know About Egg Yolk Color

Words by: Family Farm Team

There are certain questions we hear on a pretty regular basis here and Pete and Gerry's: Where can I find your eggs?, Is organic really better?, and of course: What makes an egg yolk yellower or oranger? And what does it mean? The simple answer comes down to the hen's lifestyle: In the same way that your diet affects your health, a hen's diet plays a major role in her wellbeing—and therefore in the quality of the eggs she lays.

What makes an egg yolk orange or dark yellow?

There are many factors that can influence the color of an egg yolk. The most notable ones include:

  • Outdoor forage
  • Chicken feed
  • Age of the hen
  • Environmental factors

Outdoor forage

Free range hens (like ours) that have access to green, grassy pastures tend to lay eggs with darker yolks than their caged counterparts. This is primarily due to the carotenoids (yellow, orange, and red plant pigments) found in the clovers, grasses, and other greens that hens consume outdoors. Free range hens instinctually snack on insects and grubs too, which have a high concentration of protein and other nutrients that affect the color and quality of their eggs.

While free range has many benefits, it can also lead to more variation in yolk color than you might find in a carton of eggs from a factory farm. Every hen is unique, and differences in grazing habits from hen to hen and from flock to flock can result in a mix of orange and lighter yellow yolks in any given carton.

Chicken feed

The composition of ingredients in the chicken feed available to a flock have a big impact on yolk color in the long run. Our Certified Humane Free Range hens spend most of their days foraging outdoors for bugs and tasty greens, but unlike cows or sheep, they are not ruminants and cannot subsist solely on the organic pasture that’s available to them. That’s why they need a supplementary feed containing a wide range of beneficial nutrients and minerals that are essential to their health. Though organic feed tends to be more expensive than conventional, it keeps GMOs and synthetic pesticides off of our farms and out of our eggs.

Flock age

As hens age, their grazing habits and feed composition change, and they tend to lay eggs with lighter yolks than hens in their prime laying days. While we wish we could guarantee a consistent color for all of our egg yolks, we feel that the benefit of giving our hens the freedom to live a longer life on our farms is worth any inconsistencies in yolk color that may result. We partner with over 50 small family farms, which means at any given time, our flocks are all different ages. Despite any differences in appearance or flavor, eggs from older flocks still have the same nutritional value of eggs from hens in their prime layings days.

Environmental factors

Hens are sensitive to their surroundings, and small changes like a shift in season or temperature often affect characteristics like yolk color in their eggs. Generally speaking, these factors can't be controlled, but ensuring that our hens have access to a safe, warm, well-lit hen house keeps their stress to a minumum.

Does yolk color impact nutritional content?

The nutritional value of an egg can't be judged solely by yolk color, but darker yolks are usually a good indicator that the hen has been fed a healthy, varied diet. In other words, yolk color doesn't necessarily impact nutritional value for you, but it does correspond to the health of the hen herself.

Does yolk color indicate freshness?

The short answer is no: yolk color does not indicate freshness. Although egg whites can become "looser" or more watery over time, yolks generally don't lose their hue as they sit in the refrigerator.

Are darker yolks more flavorful?

There's no proven correlation between yolk color and flavor, but most people agree that darker orange yolks tend to taste richer and more flavorful. This can be attributed to the diet of the hens; as is true of grass-fed meats and pasture-raised milk, the product of a humanely treated animal with access to a healthy, varied, natural diet tends to taste better.

Pete and Gerry's egg yolks

Hearing about a moment when cracking open one of our eggs brightened someone's day, made a favorite custard recipe even richer, or brought back delightful memories of a childhood farm never fails to bring us joy: it's a reminder that producing eggs the right way makes a difference not only for our farmers and their flocks, but also in the final product. What do you think about our egg yolks? Let us know by writing a review here.

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