Celebrity chefs know there’s more to food than taste. They strive to deliver a meal that’s so handsome it’s as much a work of art as breakfast. Sometimes it looks so good it seems a shame to attack it with a knife and fork.
The best chefs are picky about eggs. They insist on yolks with a deep golden hue. Whether they are just frying eggs or blending them into a complex recipe, that bold color impresses diners and makes chefs happy.
Owners of backyard flocks are often like picky chefs. They want their hens to lay distinctive eggs as attractive as they are delicious. People can manage their flock to produce eggs with bold yolks that are as tasty as they are gorgeous.
Just what enables a hen to create an egg with bold yolk? It boils down to xanthophyll, a long word used to describe yellow pigment in the carotenoid group.
Xanthophyll is common in nature. Yellow is its hallmark. When fall’s shortening days cause the chlorophyll in tree leaves to dissipate, xanthophyll makes the leaves of aspens, birches, cottonwoods, and silver maples glow yellow for a few fleeting days until they flutter to the ground.
Xanthophyll gives egg yolks their bold color. Fortunate chickens who spend summer days on plant and insect rich pastures eat foods rich in xanthophyll. Their eggs are as gorgeous in the nest as they are on the breakfast plate. Less fortunate chickens raised entirely indoors only eat commercial feed. It likely contains all the nutrients a hen needs for good health and egg production but lacks much xanthophyll. Eggs with pale yolks result. They’re nutritious but lack the bold beauty of deep orange yolks.
Creating Boldly Colored Yolks
It’s easy for a backyard flock owner to help hens lay eggs with bold yolks. All it takes is plenty of xanthophyll in their diet. Fortunately, it’s a common pigment. Hens foraging on a green pasture or in a run big enough to have plenty of grass and other vegetation will snack on plants that contain xanthophyll and lay bright eggs.
Many chicken runs are small. Even a few hens gobble up any plants, leaving bare dirt with no xanthophyll laden leaves to eat. There’s a solution, at least during the summer. When mowing an unsprayed lawn, collect grass clippings and dump a small pile in the run. Pitching garden weeds, carrot tops, and other normally discarded vegetable parts into the run also provides the birds some xanthophyll. Hens have a ball scattering the lush greenness, snack on tender grass blades, absorb xanthophyll, and lay golden yolked eggs.
That doesn’t work when the cold stops plant growth and snow blankets the ground. That’s when a top-notch feed mix helps. Manufacturers of commercial layer feeds include all the nutrients a hen needs for good health and egg laying but stop short of adding costly extras. Better mixes include xanthophyll and an array of essential oils that may boost a hen’s vitality, help her look like she just exited a spa, and enable her to lay eggs with bold yolks
Often basic bags of basic feed are stacked next to premium layer feed. The “good stuff” costs a few bucks a bag more but likely contains special and costly ingredients. Read the label attached to the bag. If the mix includes marigold extract, that’s xanthophyll. Likely the mix also includes other extra ingredients, usually essential oils, great for hen health. “We add marigold extract to our layer feed. It is made from marigold flowers and has a high level of xanthophyll,” said Lindsay Winter of Belstra Milling.
A wealth of egg information and innovative recipes is on the Egg Industry Center’s website at eggindustrycenter.org.
There’s no doubt that a bold yellow egg yolk adds to the aesthetics of breakfast, but does it taste better than a pale yolked egg? That depends on who you ask.