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Egg Size Matters…

Ditch the Big Boys!

Egg size matters because medium or mixed weight eggs are much less painful for the hens to lay! I recently did a Chicken and Egg Workshop presented by The Guild of Food Writers. It was an eye-opener and has changed my thinking on eggs forever. From now on I shall always choose medium or mixed weight eggs. Large or extra large are a no no!

Small really is beautiful – and small eggs are kinder!

I would hope that anyone reading this would choose free-range eggs, not ones laid by caged birds who have no fresh air, room to flap their wings, scratch or perch or even to peck properly. BUT what I didn’t know was that egg size matters too. I am now ashamed to say I have bought large or extra-large eggs to boil for breakfast for years. But not anymore. I never considered that birds deliberately bred to lay large and extra-large eggs actually suffer every day of their lives. If you think those poor little birds have to push out every single egg (we mums can imagine!!). These whoppers cause prolapses, tears and other injuries and make every day a misery for them. We don’t need these giant eggs. In fact, the yolks are pretty much to same size – and that’s the bit we all love – right? You just get a larger ratio of white to yolk with the big eggs. They often have brittle shells too as, although the birds are fed extra calcium to help them make these rugby balls, it isn’t always enough to make hard shells.  

What happens to very small eggs?

I also discovered that new, young hens when they start to produce eggs lay very small ones and producers can’t sell them to the retail trade because we don’t want them. So, they are practically given away as liquid egg to go into catering and manufacture. The sad thing is, these eggs taste great and just as nutritious. If we cooked by weight not size, we could give a fair price to the farmers for them but they would still be much cheaper than the giants we insist on buying! It would be great for us all! So egg size matters to farmers too!

Are organic eggs (and chickens) better?

Yes, as this means the birds are not only free-range, with outdoor space and all they need for a happy life but they are in much smaller flocks. They really do have a pleasurable time and, of course, are fed on a totally natural diet. However, if their price is an issue for you, then free-range is the next best option. The birds can still get outside, are able to scratch, perch etc., but the only downside for the birds themselves is that they may still be in flocks as large as 20,000 birds! Check out the Soil Association for more information. If you want to know more about organic eggs and everything else organic, you can also check out my Grown in Britain Cookbook, which is still available in paperback.

Baking by weight of eggs

To make a Victoria sponge cake, for instance, you need equal weight of eggs, flour, sugar and butter or margarine. So, for an 18 cm/7 in cake you would use 150g each of self-raising flour (plus an extra teaspoon of baking powder if beating it up as an all-in-one method), caster sugar, softened butter or margarine and eggs (equivalent to approximately 3 medium eggs but if yours are rather small, no problem just add however many you need to make up the 150g). In a box of medium or mixed weight eggs, you’ll be able to weigh pretty much exactly wht you need.

 For most recipes using an egg, to moisten or bind, like in pastry or biscuit dough, for instance, a small size doesn’t matter. You can always add a little more liquid, such as milk or water, to the mixture to get the right consistency if you don’t want to add an extra egg.

Brown or white eggs – it makes no difference, it’s the size that matters! 

The brown thing came about when everyone started on the wholefoods kick in the 1980s (brown bread, brown sugar etc.,) but nutritionally brown or white eggs are exactly the same. Waitrose now sells free-range white eggs very reasonably. With Easter coming up, they are ideal for decorating.  For breakfast you could soft-boil them with onion skins wrapped round them and held on with elastic bands. Then take the skins off when cooked and they will have a lovely marble-effect, coloured shell (or put some beetroot in the water to make them pink, or blue food colouring or whatever you fancy. Alternatively, hard-boil them, then get the kids to paint them with food colourings for great Easter treats!

Carolyn Humphries

I have been a food writer and editor for many years and have written over 60 books. I believe food should be easy to make, look good, taste good and do you good. I am passionate about creating delicious dishes that anyone can cook. I care about where our food comes from too: buying locally grown produce where possible and supporting ethical trading by purchasing Fairtrade imports when home-grown aren’t available.