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From omelets to scrambled to frittatas, we love eggs in the Test Kitchen. However, it pays to be a savvy shopper when purchasing ingredients from the supermarket. Here are the 5 things you should look out for when buying eggs.
1. Don't confuse the "sell-by" date with the pack date.
Egg cartons are marked with both a sell-by date and a pack date.
The pack date is the day the eggs were graded and packed, which is generally a week within being laid, but, legally, may be as much as 30 days. The pack date is printed on egg cartons as a three number code just next to the sell-by date and it runs consecutively from 001, for January 1, to 365, for December 31.
The sell-by date is the legal limit to which eggs may be sold and is within 30 days of the pack date.
2. Take the "sell-by" date with a grain of salt.
In short, a carton may be up to two months old by the end of the sell-by date. Even so, according to the USDA, eggs are still fit for consumption for an additional three to five weeks past the sell-by date. We tasted two- and three-month-old eggs and found them perfectly palatable. At four months, the white was very loose and the yolk "tasted faintly of the refrigerator," though it was still edible.
Our advice is to use your discretion. If the eggs smell odd or display discoloration, pitch them. Older eggs also lack the structure-lending properties of fresh eggs, so beware when baking.
3. The color of the shell has no bearing on egg flavor.
The shell's hue depends on the breed of the chicken. The run-of-the-mill Leghorn chicken produces the typical white egg. Brown-feathered birds, such as Rhode Island Reds, produce ecru- to coffee-colored eggs. Despite marketing hype extolling the virtues of non-white eggs, a test kitchen taste test proved that shell color has no effect on flavor.
4. Although Grade AA exists (and is the best), Grade A is the typical retail standard.
Although eggs are theoretically sold in three grades (AA, A, B), we found only grade A eggs for sale in nearby supermarkets. Grade AA eggs are the cream of the crop, possessing the thickest whites and shells, according to the American Egg Board. Grade B eggs are used commercially.
5. Farm-fresh eggs are well worth the splurge.
In our taste tests, farm-fresh eggs were standouts. The large yolks were shockingly orange and their flavor was exceptionally rich and complex. The organic eggs followed in second place, with eggs from hens raised on a vegetarian diet in third, and the standard supermarket eggs last.
Our conclusion? If you have access to eggs fresh from the farm, do buy them -- they are a special treat that would be best used in an egg-based dish like an omelet or frittata rather than baked into cakes or cookies. Otherwise, organic eggs are worth the premium -- about a dollar more than standard supermarket eggs. For general use, though, there's nothing wrong with supermarket eggs.
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