Sunday, February 26, 2012

Japanese Eggs versus American Eggs

One of my dear Primal friends asked for a short primer on the difference between the eggs.  It's very much the same as the difference between Pastured eggs versus the standard eggs you can buy in any grocery store.  Now, if you want a scholarly lecture on every aspect of an egg there is to read, go to the University of Florida webpage here to read one (it's chock full of info and I used some for this blog).  So... without getting into all the issues and differences between free-range, cage-free, "normal", organic and organic/pastured, let's talk how the Japanese raise their chickens compared to ours.

First, go to your fridge and select one Japanese egg and one standard American egg:

Besides the fact that they sell their eggs in carton of 10 and ours in a dozen (12), you'll notice the difference in packaging.  Clear plastic (yes, it's recyclable... everything is made to recycle in Japan) versus our hugely protective cartons made of thick cellulose material.  Why?  Well, move onto the egg shells and there's the first difference.

Japanese egg on left - American egg on right

1.  The thickness of the shellYou'll notice not only does the Japanese egg have many lightly colored spots on them (different chickens, different colored eggshells), but that when you go to crack it open, you'll really have to whack it harder than the American egg.  This is due to the healthiness of the actual bird that laid this egg.  The thickness of the shell is determined by factors influencing it BEFORE it's hatched or laid.  Factors such as the age of the hen (older hens produce thinner shells), the amount of time the egg stays in the shell gland or uterus (a scared or stressed bird pushes it's eggs out faster which causes them to be thin), lighting program equivalent to daylight/natural lighting and not keeping lights 'on' when indoors, and the nutritional status of the hen (needs 'proper' amount of calcium and phosphorus in the diet for strong shells - we'll talk chicken feed later).   

 So, now you've cracked open that egg shell and realize how thick it is... no wonder why they're packaged differently!  No need to provide intense protection for something that provides it's own protection.  As a matter of fact, recently I went on the bullet train with a culture group and packed 2 containers of Japanese eggs in my suitcase.  Nope, didn't bubble-wrap them, just put them on top in the roll-along kind of suitcase for the weekend.  Everyone was worried throughout our journey that the eggs wouldn't make it intact to our destination (yep, bag was put up on the shelf above the seats, manhandled up and down staircases, buses, and into a storage room (in which I have no idea how it was placed!!)... not a single egg was broken!!  Amazing!  I'm hoping you can access the above video as it shows me breaking the shell with my thumb.  I did have to push harder for the Japanese egg.

OK... onward!  Next, look at the egg in the bowl:
American Egg and shell
 First the American egg:  We already know it was easier to crack, but look for a moment at the yolk.  It is a nice yellow-orange color with well defined albumin (white part) around it and even more runny albumin (yeah, both these eggs are a little older than I'd like). 
Japanese egg and shell

Next, the Japanese egg:  thicker shell, poor job of cracking it!  Check out the yolk!  Not only is it a darker orange, but it's retained a more spherical (round) shape.

Side-by-side, you can really see the difference between the two yolks.  White parts are fairly identical.  So, what does this mean?  Why are the yolks different colored?  There's our real second difference:

Japanese egg on left - American on right

 2.  The color of the yolk: 
Yolk color depends on the diet of the hen. If she gets plenty of yellow-orange plant pigments known as xanthophylls, they will be deposited in the yolk. Hens fed mashes containing yellow corn and alfalfa meal lay eggs with yellow yolks, while those eating white corn, grain sorghum (milo), wheat or barley yield light-colored (platinum) yolks. Natural yellow-orange substances such as marigold petals may be added to light-colored feeds to enhance yolk color.(University of Florida)
So, what causes the dark, dark orange?  You may not want to hear this, but it's bugs.  Yes, dears, bugs.  Meaning, the chicken in a pasture comes across bugs, lizards, small snakes, etc and will eat them.  That's what chickens do.  They are not vegetarians, but omnivores.  So, when you put your chicken out to pasture, they eat grass, bugs, small reptiles, anything they can get their little beaks into!  This causes them to not only have more beta-carotene (from grasses) in their diets, but meats.  This influx of natural ingredients actually changes the yolk to be full of Omega-3 fatty acids... yep, the good kind, and in the process causes the color of the yolk to be darker orange.  By letting the chickens eat what they want to eat, we get healthier!  (well, so is the offspring if hatched) 

An interesting side note on Japanese eggs, in my research for this blog, I came across an article that talked about how in some areas of Japan, they are paying MORE for very pale egg yolks.  How they are doing this is to feed these chickens rice... only rice.  Supposedly, these eggs are prized for their taste and restaurants that sell "rice omelets" are using this type of egg.  Sad...

OK... back to one last difference.  Lastly, start to puncture the yolk... go for it.  Watch what happens.  Does the yolk just burst and run all over?  Does it retain it's shape?  Well, it does if it's Japanese!  The below video shows me poking the two yolks with my fork.  The American one punctured very easily and ran all over, the Japanese, I had to push pretty hard and then it didn't run.  Why?  Partly the membranous covering of the yolk is thicker, but the yolk itself is thicker and more creamy in texture.

3.  Quality, texture and taste:  Somewhat covered by the above is quality and texture.  The Japanese yolk is more durable and creamy than the yellow American egg's yolk.  The difference in taste is just lovely.  More full of flavor.  I just use a little cracked pepper and perhaps a few grains of sea salt and I'm good... no need to add milk or water, or whatever else you feel scrambled eggs need!! 

So, there you have it... the difference between the two different types of eggs you can buy in our commissary here in Japan.  Is it worth the expense?  YES!!  Can I find them cheaper off base?  YES!!  I can find 10 eggs for 160yen off base instead of the $3.25 on base.  However, you can also find them for a LOT more expensive at farmer's markets.  Just know that the ones at the farmer's markets are FRESH... the ones in a store still may be produced by chickens in barns never seeing the light of day.  So, given the choice, I'll take the 20 at the farmer's market for 400yen!!  :)  ENJOY!!


  1. I'm just back from visiting Tokyo and was very curious about how they can produce such orange yolks in industrial settings. My grandma back in Serbia had backyard chickens with yolks like this and the explanation of corn + a bug diet makes a lot of sense to me. Btw, the link to the University of Florida article is no longer good. Maybe you'll see this and update it. Thanks!