Are You Getting Duped by Egg Yolk Color?
May 15, 2023
This past winter, a conversation about egg yolk color came up on the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association (APPPA) listserv. We have been members of this organization since 2013 and value the knowledge of the producers who are in this group. The topic of egg yolk color has come up before, but I never put a lot of thought into it, because I’m pasturing our hens and giving them the best ability to put nutrition back into their eggs. But this conversation peaked my interest, mainly with the rise in “pasture raised” eggs becoming commercially available and distributed nationwide by companies.
After reading along and then listening to a podcast (The Fighting Farmer) by APPPA members, I felt that I needed to let my customers know that there are products out there to enhance egg yolk color. The company Kemin Industries has been working on products to use carotenoids to enhance the color of egg yolks for more than 20 years. KEM GLO, ORO GLO, Organic ORO GLO and now Organic KEM GLO. KEM GLO uses paprika and ORO GLO uses marigold petals. The company claims that their products deliver lutein in the egg yolks and increase the nutritional value of the egg. And this is just one company I found.
Carotenoids in plants will affect the color of egg yolk. We can say our egg yolks stay a light orange, pale yellow color through the winter because of the corn and alfalfa meal in our chicken ration. As opposed the someone feeding a no corn feed, that may be made up of wheat and other plants that have little to no carotenoids.
We know that pasture raised eggs are nutrient dense. Karsten (2010) found pastured raised eggs to have twice as much vitamin E and long chain omega-3 fats, 2.5 times more total omega-3 fatty acids and less than half the ratio of omega-6: omega-3 fatty acids compared the caged hen eggs. In addition, the vitamin A was 38% higher in the pastured eggs. Interestingly this study had 3 pastures set up that the 75 hens were rotated through, (1) alfalfa, (2) red and white clover and (3) mixed cool season grasses. They spent 2 weeks in each pasture treatment. They found eggs from the hens when they foraged grasses was 23% higher in vitamin E compared to their eggs when foraging clover. The other nutrition did not differ between the 3 different forage pastures.
Mother Earth News has also done nutritional values on pasture raised eggs and has found the following:
• 1⁄3 less cholesterol
• 1⁄4 less saturated fat
• 2⁄3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene
• 4-6 times as much vitamin D
They have done testing in 2005 & 2007. Source: https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/eggs-zl0z0703zswa
With all this said, it is important to know your farmer. A farmer you can ask the question too. “Do you add anything to the chickens feed to enhance egg yolk color?” On our farm, the only thing in the feed that is affecting the egg yolk color is the corn. The brighter colors of yolk in the spring and summer are a result to what the hen is eating on pasture. And you may notice, not all egg yolk colors have the same hue. Each hen eats what she likes or can get to first. It’s very competitive out there on pasture, mainly due to the nature of the laying hens. Some people call it neurotic. They have an instinct to chase anything that moves, insects beware! Our pastures have prolific insect populations of crickets and spiders. All of our chickens, broiler meat birds included, love these little insect tidbits that are packed with protein. But there are no yolk color enhancing properties in black crickets or spiders.
Here’s a breakdown of Nutritional value:
Insect Protein % Fat%
Crickets 6.7 5.5
Termites 14.2 NA
Caterpillars 28.2 NA
Weevil 6.7 NA
Large Grasshopper 14.3 3.3
Silk Worm Pupae 9.6 5.6
Giant Water Bugs 19.8 8.3
Very Large Spider 63 10
That seems to be of some value, that only a chicken raised on pasture and moving to new insect habitat regularly will ingest. And the egg yolk color won’t tell you how many crickets that hen ate. A big company selling pastured eggs from many farms, will specify what those hens will be fed for grain. So, they can sell a consistent product. Do all those egg yolks have a similar golden hue because there is no variety in that hen’s diet?
Laying hens on pasture at Nelson Grass Farm in Ogilvie, MN
H.D. Karsten (a1), P.H. Patterson (a2), R. Stout (a3) and G. Crews (a4). "Vitamins A, E and fatty acid composition of the eggs of caged hens and pastured hens." Published online by Cambridge University Press: 12 January 2010