Frequently maligned and misunderstood by fat-fearing cholesterol-phobes and just about everybody else, the humble egg’s reputation took a beating (ehm) particularly in the spandex days of the 80’s and 90’s.
Thankfully, supported by numerous studies, today nearly everybody knows and extols the virtues of this small and magical food. Not only is it a majestic feat of engineering and design, it’s also nutritionally dense: an excellent source of vitamins A, B12, D, E, K, folate and pantothenic acid.
Eggs contain a variety of essential minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, iron, zinc and selenium (to name a few). This is good for boosting red blood cell production as well as metabolism, and is excellent for skin, eyes, and nervous system.
They’re also chock full of protein and good fat. Yes fat.
The subject of dietary fat and cholesterol has always been controversial. However, healthy fats (such as the long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids found in egg yolks) are vital to human health. Evidence has shown that eating foods rich in polyunsaturated fats can actually improve blood cholesterol levels, which can eventually decrease the risk of heart disease. This is because fats like oleic and linoleic acids can reduce dietary fat and cholesterol absorption in the intestines. These fatty acids also have antioxidant properties which protect blood vessels from breaking under pressure.
Not only that but, many nutrients, such as vitamin A (as well as D, E and K) are better absorbed with fat, while the omega-3 fatty acids and nutrients like folate, pantothenic acid and zinc are also important for brain and nerve function. Eating the yolk can reduce stress levels and even help to prevent depression. Oh, and they taste lovely.
OK, so we know eggs are good (even great!) for us, but which ones should we buy? If you don’t have the privilege of a Babička or Dědeček with their own flock of hens in the countryside, don’t worry, I’ve compiled a few tips for egg shopping.
Let’s crack on, shall we?
In a shop:
When buying eggs in a shop, open the carton and take a look at the code stamped on the shell.
It can look something like this: 1 CZ 2235
The first number code (0-3) tells us a bit about the living conditions of the laying hens. The second, letter code (CZ) tells us which country the eggs come from, and the last (4 digit) number code is the registration number of the farm.
So, what do the numbers 0-3 have to say about living conditions?
0 – Ecological & free range
This means that farmers have to adhere to ecological agriculture laws when it comes to the care and feeding of the hens. Hens themselves can happily run outside with enough room, and pick at grass and greens in addition to their feed.
1- Free range
This is the same as above, only there are no ecological agriculture rules to stick to. This is a typical farm/statek setting you’d find in the Czech countryside- usually small-batch and kept for personal use.
2- Sometimes labeled vejce z podestýlky
Hens are kept in a big hall, where while they are free to move about on the straw floor, they never see the light of day. Moreover, conditions are usually rather tight, so it is debatable just how much these ladies can roam about.
3- Battery cage/ factory-farmed
By far, the worst: hens are kept in cages, with no room to stretch their wings or move at all. Needless to say, beyond the very obvious cruelty of this method, it also proves to be rather unhygienic and is bound to produce very low quality eggs.
Feathers ruffled yet?
Most shops here, sadly, do seem to carry mainly (or only) #3’s. Your local bio obchod very likely will have even #0’s, but at 10 Kč/egg it can get a bit pricey. Farm shops like Sklizeno and Český Grunt, and even the excellent butcher’s The Real Meat Society all tend to have products from small-scale, local farms. Always ask if you’re not sure where the eggs are coming from, staff is usually, I find, more than helpful and informed.
At the farmers market:
The recent rise in popularity of the farmers markets has unfortunately, also attracted people wanting to capitalize from this, and with not always the best quality produce. Be aware- even though the eggs may not be stamped and look like they’ve just come straight from Babička’s farm, it’s always best to ask. Some of the market sellers even have photos of their hens and how they’re kept.
Of course, you can always visit a farm, yourself and get your eggs, straight from the source. And if you have a house/garden why not raise some yourself?