“The book had been written in the age when long black stockings and long black gloves had been the height of pornographic fashion, when ‘kissing a man without a moustache was like eating an egg without salt.'”
-Aldous Huxley, Point Counter Point
Yesterday I went to the small-but-perfectly-formed Little Christmas Show at Josie Eastwood Fine Art. There were some familiar artists there, Chloe Lamb and Ann Shrager, for example, as well as a yearned-for Vanessa Cooper.
And then, drawn initially by my fixation on food and drink, I discovered the artist, Harriet Salt, and found myself visually devouring The Bluest Egg (see featured image), if not with salt, at least by Salt (apologies to HS).
Harriet Salt knows her stuff when it comes to art. She has the advantage of being classically trained at the Charles Cecil studios in Florence, imbuing her work with an understanding and skill which gives an exquisite depth. I’ve never met Harriet Salt, but overlaying her paintings there is a bright personality – they’re beautifully executed but at the same time interesting and different.
They’re the sort of paintings that you can look at for some time in happy meditation. And as I was indulging in exactly that pleasure I found I was wondering about these blue eggs and whether or not they might taste different to other coloured eggs (for example my beloved Burford Browns). I remembered a time when a friend gave us a box of her blue eggs and, although entranced by the colour, thinking the flavour seemed essentially…. egg-like.
Do different coloured eggs taste different?
Research revealed, reassuringly, that, no, I hadn’t missed anything crucial: the colour of the egg (whatever the producer – chicken, duck, quail…) doesn’t impact on the taste. ‘Duck egg blue’ isn’t a very exact term as duck eggs can be white, cream, green, speckled… black even.
Taste-varying factors when it comes to eggs are environment and diet. Again, I recalled a distant birthday party when a naughty diminutive guest crept down in the night and mauled the elaborate icing off an expensive (donated) cake which had to be handed on to neighbouring poultry. The appreciative hens repaid us with chocolate scented eggs – a revelation!
Grass, clovers, and a plant called Lucerne will result in the lovely deep orange colour you see in the Burford Brown – but they may also enhance the shell colour.
So what causes chickens to lay different coloured eggs?
Essentially it’s breeding.
How does it happen?
At the start of the day long internal egg producing process the developing egg would be white – then the shell begins to form. As it travels down the hen’s oviduct pigments are deposited on the shell which may permeate through to dye the inside of the egg, depending on the pigment (blue, deposited earlier, often does; brown, deposited later, doesn’t).
Blue eggs are laid by Ameraucanas and Araucanas (mostly of Chilean origin). The blue is the pigment, oocyanin, produced as part of the bile-making process. A study carried out at Nottingham University has shown that a virus which attacked the chickens thousands of years ago resulted in a genetic mutation causing the birds’ bile ducts to produce additional amounts of the green pigment, biliverdin – an accummulation of this substance results in the chickens passing on a gene which results in the oocyanin.
Dark brown eggs are typically produced by Marans (maybe a Silk Cuckoo or a Red Copperneck), Penedesencas, and Barnevelders (mostly from Asia). The Black Copper Marans produces one of the darkest eggs. The colour is produced by the pigment, protoporphyrin, formed from haemoglobin in the bird’s blood.
White or cream eggs
White, or cream, eggs come from Mediterranean stock.
Green eggs are produced by a hybrid hen with one parent contributing a blue-soaked shell and the other depositing a layer of brown pigment over it.
The ‘cuticle’ or ‘bloom’ of the egg is a natural protective coating which seals the pores of the egg shell. It reduces moisture loss and protects the egg from invasion by external bacteria. Over time it dries off, but more often it’s washed off (sometimes it’s replaced with a layer of oil). Very light pastel pink eggs (sometimes a rosy, toasty colour if the egg is already tinted) are formed when the bloom is coated on just before the egg is laid. The thicker the bloom, the darker the hue.
Rhode Island and New Hampshire Reds tend to produce a particularly rosy egg.
The speckling effect occurs when the egg turns around in the oviduct more slowly than usual.
The paler the hue of the shell, the older its producer is likely to be, or the more subjected to sun and heat (provide plenty of shade and water for a deeper colour). Summer eggs are typically paler than winter ones. Stress can also result in paler eggs!
Clarence Court produces Burford Brown eggs (deep brown colour with amber yolks) and Cotwold Legbar eggs (pale blue shell) which are available throughout the UK in supermarkets (Waitrose, Sainsburys, Ocado and Morrisons).
Other posts on eggs
- How to poach an egg
- My mother’s, and James Bond’s, scrambled eggs
- Failsafe way to make the perfect omelette
- Great beginners’ guide to keeping chickens on the Poultry Keeper site
- In the UK find chickens, and other fowl, on Preloved
For a book of recipes by an urban hen-keeper, read A Good Egg by Genevieve Taylor
Table of chicken breeds and the different coloured eggs they produce
|Colour of egg||Chicken breed|
|Pale blue||Old Cotswold Legbar|
|Greeny blue||Easter Egger (not, strictly, a breed – a catch-all term for anything which isn’t a specific breed which lays a greeny blue egg|
|Cream Legbar – this is a British-developed cross between Barred Plymouth Rocks, Golden Leghorns and Araucanas|
|Green (light olive really)||Olive Egger…. these are also hybrids, as described in the text above|
|Mid to dark brown, sometimes speckledy (Speckledy, Welsommer and the Silk Cuckoo Marans are especially adept at the speckledy effect)||Barnevelder|
|Black Star (aka Black Sex Link) – a cross between a Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire rooster and a Barred Rock hen|
|Marans: Silk Cuckoo; Red, Blue or Black Copperneck|
|Biscuity, toasted, sometimes rosy, colour||Black Australorp|
|New Hampshire Red|
|Old English Game|
|Rhode Island Red|
|Mille Fleur d’Uccle|
|Phoenix – wonderful name, it’s a German breed derived from the Japanese Onagadori|
Usually produced by chickens with white earlobes (all the others have red-lobed mothers). For more about chicken ear lobes go here.
|Modern Games – an ornamental bird with very long legs which looks very weird|
This post is dedicated to Carina Simonds.
Chickens by Harry Belafonte