For long, there has been a debate whether eggs can be considered vegetarian or not. To add to the egg-woes, news of eggs containing more than acceptable levels of dioxins, hormones and antibiotics was constantly in the limelight.
Now, the poultry industry is getting some positive attention with information about organic and free-range eggs availability trickling in
The excess revenue comes to Rs 8.12 crore, out of which the prize money distributed was worth only Rs 1.04 crore. The food eating patterns of Indians are changing and as the shift takes places from purely vegetarian to non-vegetarian foods, the consumption of eggs has increased manifold. Eggs feature in many of the pre-cooked and prepared products that we find on our supermarket shelves today. Eggs can be boiled-hard or soft, poached, fried, scrambled or even baked, used to make an omelette, or soufflé. They can be added to savoury or sweet dishes, used to bind and coat ingredients.
There are several types of eggs, but the ones that we see in the market and buy most often are actually commercially-produced eggs. Standard eggs, otherwise known as regular eggs, commercially produced eggs, conventional eggs, battery farm eggs or just "eggs" are the most common type of eggs found in our markets and shops. The commercial eggs cost Rs 2-3 a piece. ‘Keggs, the branded eggs however come for Rs 40 for a 6-egg box. They are labelled “cage-free” and have a best before period of 20 days.
The chickens are kept in small cages, anything between 3-7 hens per cage, so there is not enough room for the hens to exercise. Thousands of these cages are found in large artificially-lit sheds that can contain from around 20,000-100,000 birds altogether. The hens are fed a high protein diet containing antibiotics, hormones and other chemicals.
Obviously, due to a high output and minimum care for the birds, the cost of this type of egg is low and therefore standard eggs are the cheapest eggs that you can buy in the shops. Such egg-production is cruel to the hens and even though consumers get them cheap, they can be a health hazard due to the excessive use of hormones and antibiotics in the chicken feed.
The hens are kept indoors, in large barns covered with straw and are separated into pens rather than into small cages. The hens have much more room to move around and are able to carry out their natural activities, such as spreading their wings, scratching for food and even socialising with other hens. This method of egg farming is considered a much more humane way to keep hens. Some say that a happier and healthier hen produces a better quality egg.
Organic eggs come from hens that have outdoor access during the day and are able to run around outside in an area covered with natural vegetation. They are fed a wholly organic grain feed, which has been organically grown and therefore must not contain any pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. The birds are raised in a healthy environment and are fed only natural ingredients. They are not given any antibiotics, hormones or meat by-products to fatten them up or make them grow bigger.
Although organic eggs are more expensive than regular eggs, at least you know what you are putting into your body and that the hen that laid the eggs has been well cared for.
Free-range eggs are produced by hens that have daily access to an outdoor area with vegetation (weather permitting), although they are housed for the majority of the time in large barns. Even though the hens are housed indoors, they are not kept locked up in cages and the size of the flock is regulated. They are able to wander around and exercise even whilst they are kept indoors.
This type of eggs is produced by hens that are only fed a vegetarian diet, thus not consuming any meat or fish products. The hens are kept in cages and therefore are not classed as "free-range".
Egg shell colour
Eggs are either brown or white. Some people think that brown eggs are healthier than white eggs, although this is a myth and there is no reason to think this. Maybe they are comparing eggs to brown and white bread!
Basically, it all boils down to the breed of the hen that lays the egg. Hens with white feathers and white ear lobes lay white eggs and hens with red feathers and red ear lobes lay brown eggs. There is no nutritional difference between white or brown eggs, neither one is better or healthier than the other.
Brown eggs may be more expensive than white eggs, but this is only due to the fact that brown hens are larger and therefore need more food.
Egg yolk colour
A paler yolk does not mean that the egg is bad or less tasty, it just means that the hen was fed a diet with paler ingredients. That is to say, bright chicken feed equals bright yellow egg yolk.
Once you arrive home, you should store the eggs in the refrigerator at a constant temperature (4°C) or below. Temperatures above this limit may lead bacteria to grow and rapidly multiply.
Keep the eggs in the original carton and place them on one of the shelves inside the fridge, where the temperature is cold and consistent. Do not store the eggs inside the fridge door, where warm air enters the fridge each time the door is opened.
Whats in a name?
Eggs are not "eggs" anymore. There are free-range eggs, vegetarian eggs, organic eggs and barn-laid eggs, and it is almost impossible for consumers to tell one from another. Are these categories really distinct from each other and beneficial to the consumer, or are they just another marketing gimmick, confusing consumers with varied names?
There is no agency in India that certifies eggs and standardises them for freshness. The consumer just has to depend on his luck and pray that the eggs he purchases from the market are fresh.
The right egg
Eggs start to deteriorate from the time theyre laid. The white gradually gets thinner, the yolk gets more fragile and the air space inside the egg gets bigger (this is why a stale egg floats in water). Older eggs can also develop a stronger flavour, which some people find less pleasant. An eggshell can have as many as 17,000 tiny pores over its surface, through which the egg can absorb flavours and smells.
A quick check for freshness is to pop the raw egg in its shell in a bowl of water. If it sinks to a completely horizontal position its very fresh; if it tilts up slightly its probably around a week old and if it floats its probably far from fresh. The most likely reason this test wouldnt work is if an egg had a weak shell or fine cracks which can also cause the egg to float.
So whats the theory behind the test? Its to do with the air pocket at the wide end of the egg. In a really fresh egg its very small; as the egg ages, water is lost and the air cell gets bigger. If you hard-boil an old egg the air cell indentation can be clearly seen at the wide end of the egg when you remove the shell. Also, if you cut the egg longways you can see that the yolk is off-centre.
Another test is to crack open the egg and have a look. In a really fresh egg the yolk is rounded and stands up high in a thick gelatinous layer of white that clings all around the yolk, with a thinner outer layer. When the egg gets older the yolk gets flatter; and the two separate textures of whites are not as obvious, as the inner one becomes thin and runny, no longer keeping the yolk in place.
Dioxins in Indian eggs
Dioxins are one of most poisonous chemicals known to man and they have found their way to our dining tables. In 2005, Toxics Link, a Delhi-based NGO reported that chicken eggs in India carry high levels of dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
The dioxin levels were found to be 5.5 times higher than the European Union safe dioxin limit for eggs and the samples collected exceed the limit for PCBs by 4.7 times. The test results revealed the presence of the most toxic of dioxins, which form a family of 210 compounds. Dioxins act as powerful hormone-disrupting chemicals and literally modify the genetic mechanism of the cell in human beings, which causes a wide range of negative effects, from cancer to reduced immunity to nervous system disorder, miscarriage and birth deformity.
As part of the survey, the Indian samples were collected from near Queen Marys Hospitals medical waste incinerator in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, and were collectively tested along with other samples at Axys Varilaba, a Czech laboratory, which meets World Health Organisation (WHO) criteria for testing limits.
Chicken eggs from 17 countries across five continents were examined for harmful chemicals. The aim of the study was to explore whether free-range chicken eggs might contain unintentional POPs, if collected from near potential sources of the same.
The study is particularly relevant to India as there are no standard guidelines to breed and feed poultry in the country. In comparison to other countries from where samples were collected, Indian egg samples were found to contain more than five-fold the level of dioxin than samples from some other countries.
According to the study, an interesting point to be noted was the fact that toxic contents have been found in egg samples from all countries studied so far, clearly pointing to the global nature of the problem. Chicken eggs were chosen for the study as they are among the most commonly available food item and their fat content makes them appropriate for monitoring chemicals.
How is egg freshness measured?
A mathematical formula that combines the weight of the egg and the thickness of the white gives an internationally recognised measure of egg freshness and quality called a Haugh unit. The US standard classifies eggs under 60 Haugh units as weak and watery, and this is the quality benchmark for egg freshness. Reasonably fresh eggs of good quality should have Haugh unit values of 60 or more; low-quality eggs have values of less than 40.
Cracked or broken eggs are risky:
Most eggs contain no bacteria when theyre laid but the shells are quickly contaminated with bacteria from nests and litter. When the shells are cracked or broken, the bacteria (mainly salmonella) spread to the egg inside. So always throw out any cracked or broken eggs.
Eggs: rising consumption in winters
For Indians, winters is the time to consume eggs. Even those who are vegetarians do not mind eating a boiled egg or an omelette every day in winter time as eggs are considered heaty foods, good for imparting heat to the body in winters. As the temperatures plummet, eating an egg is considered safe as eggs are less prone to spoilage due to heat.
For vegetarians, egg is considered an acceptable food and a substitute for meat products. Because it is high in protein content, it is the choicest food for people who are keen on building muscle.