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Related question: Why are Italian eggs so yellow?

Occasionally I get served a fried / poached egg with a deep yellow/orange yolk. I find it extremely appetising and visually attractive.

Sometimes eggs have very weakly coloured yolks, which is less appealing -- but I couldn't swear that the flavour is affected.

  • Is there a correlation between the colour of a yolk and its flavour?
  • When shopping, how can I increase my chances of getting a richly coloured yolk?
    • Does free-range / barn / battery make a difference?
    • Is there a correlation between price and yolk colour?
  • Do egg producers and/or chefs use dirty tricks to effect a yellow yolk? Dye? Food additives?

I'm in the UK, but please feel free to give answers for other parts of the world. If you suspect they're not universal, make sure you point out your location.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The color of the yolk is based on the chicken's diet. I eat vegetarian fed eggs from the grocery store and they have deep yellow yolks. If I go back to buying standard white eggs its a bit disconcerting because they have very pale yolks.

In the fall is when the eggs are the orangest for pasture raised eggs, again something about what is available to feed. The only way I can find these eggs is to get them from the farmers market or from a coworker who raises hens themselves.

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1  
Two comments: (1) There are chickens that eat meat!?! (2) "standard white eggs" -- here in the UK, white eggs are quite hard to find. Generally, eggs have brown shells. –  slim Nov 4 '11 at 14:17
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A vegetarian fed chicken is not a natural situation. In the wild chickens are omnivores. My chickens will gladly eat anything smaller than they are- In addition to the weeds and bugs that they eat I've seen them catch and fight over snakes, lizards, mice, etc. I agree that diet determines the egg color. All my chickens' egg yolks are almost orange. –  Sobachatina Nov 4 '11 at 14:20
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a vegetarian fed chicken is definitely more natural than ones that are not marked vegetarian. I most often buy my eggs in a grocery store where "cage free" and "free range" labels have been reduced to being almost meaningless. For sure, a pasture raised chicken is going to have the best eggs because of the omnivorous diet. –  Manako Nov 4 '11 at 14:30
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Of course, silly me -- a chicken with a worm in its mouth is an archetypal image. –  slim Nov 4 '11 at 15:34
    
@Manako- "a vegetarian fed chicken is definitely more natural than ones that are not marked vegetarian" Good point for store bought eggs. –  Sobachatina Nov 4 '11 at 15:59

Regarding the last question:

Do egg producers and/or chefs use dirty tricks to effect a yellow yolk? Dye? Food additives?

Yes, they do!

In fact scientists have experimented with food additives in order to control the color of the yolk. Interestingly enough the preferred color of the egg yolk differ between countries and even between regions within countries.

One study examined the red and yellow additives from marigold flowers and paprika fruit. Note that artificial coloring additives are banned in the US, thus the interest for natural colorings.

Details can be found in: Egg Yolk Color as Affected by Saponification of Different Natural Pigmenting Sources

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My local farmer tells me that the color of the yolk (and the color of the chicken fat) is directly related to how much fresh grass they get in their diet. They scatter the feed on the ground and the chickens pick up some grass as they eat. The chlorophyl in the grass is the specific thing that affects color.

If there has been a drought, causing the grass to brown, or if it is winter and the chickens go outside less, the eggs (and fat) become paler. So, the color of the yolk suggests whether the chickens are in a real free-range environment, which also affects flavor.

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I think diet is the most important factor, but the breed of the hen may have an effect as well. We buy eggs from a local farmer, and a carton will have blue, green, white and multiple shades of brown and tan eggs. The blue and green eggs almost always have more yellow/orange yolks. And this was the case with our previous farmer as well.

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