For years cooks food writers have advised us to buy large eggs, on the basis that they are somehow superior to smaller eggs. They're not…
I was brought up to believe large eggs are best, and so I always bought them.
Several reasons for this: most recipes specify large eggs, and as eggs are generally a good thing, more seems better. If you enjoy a boiled egg for breakfast, as does my partner, a large egg seems more, well, manly. Last year, for a magazine feature I was writing, I decided to work out how much egg you get for your money, and it turns out that (weight for weight) large eggs are cheapest. What’s to argue about?
So I thought - until I encountered Jane Howorth, who founded the British Hen Welfare Trust and lives down the road from me in Mid Devon. Jane wants shoppers to rethink, and switch to buying small or medium eggs, or boxes of mixed-weight eggs. ‘The farmers and hens will thank you,’ she says. ‘And you’ll get more yolk for your buck if you do.’
Smaller eggs tend to be laid by younger birds, in the peak of health, and are of excellent quality. The yolks are proportionately larger than the yolks of bigger eggs, and the whites tend to be gelatinous and silky, rather than watery. Because consumers turn their noses up, however, they are considered ‘seconds’, and sold off by farmers cheaply, often as liquid egg. Meanwhile older hens are being put under increasing pressure to lay larger and larger eggs. Pressure is the word: it’s painful and exhausting for the hens. Prolapses are not uncommon, leading to premature death.
During the last 15 years, the free-range movement has successfully transformed the poultry industry: over 50% of British birds are now free-range (as are all the eggs sold by Waitrose and Partners, and used in its own-brand products). Next step is for us all to switch to mixed-weight eggs.
If you’re worried such a change will throw your cooking into disarray, I’ve been looking at the figures, and I think not.
• Small eggs weigh 53g or less. Medium - average 58g. Large - average 68g
• In most recipes, it won’t matter which size egg you use. If a recipe specifies 3 large eggs, use 4 small ones
• A large egg white weighs about 40g, medium 32g. For meringues, weigh your egg whites and double that in sugar. For a proper Victoria sponge, weigh eggs and use the same of butter, sugar, flour.
Thinking of keeping chickens? Visit bhwt.org.uk, which (once restrictions are lifted) offers a rehoming service for commercial laying birds.