I was in America a couple of years ago, and my children ordered boiled eggs for breakfast. The eggs duly arrived, in little eggcups, with some toast and butter. All very normal.
My children’s eyes were like saucers. They had never seen the like before. Not because I had brought them up in a cereals-only breakfast world, or because they had never suspected the existence of toast, or because they had never seen a boiled egg before. They had seen boiled eggs before. But not these eggs.
These eggs were white.
In the UK, when I was growing up, we had white eggs on the shelves of the grocer’s as well as brown ones. The difference in the colour of the shell is down to the breed of chicken laying the egg. As a rule, white-feathered chickens such as leghorns lay white eggs. Brown chickens such as Rhode Island reds lay brown ones. (Some mavericks go off-piste and lay blue ones.)
Once upon a time, white eggs ruled the British shelves. White-producing chickens were more efficient layers than their umber kin, so cheaper to keep, cheaper to produce, cheaper to buy. Then the public tide gradually turned. People somehow got hold of the notion that white eggs were the poultry equivalent of white bread: a bit insipid, less nutritious than wholemeal, commercially produced. Brown eggs were more natural, more wholesome, more virtuous. Goodness, we even stamp them with a little British lion to show how virtuous they are. Good luck finding a white egg today.
An egg is an egg.
Although, obviously, an egg isn’t always just an egg. Brown eggs can be harvested from caged hens, free-range hens, or (possibly) hens that live lives of luxury in penthouses in The Shard.
You can enter the code printed on your Lion-stamped egg in the box at the Lion Panopticon to trace where it came from because the welfare of the hens producing those eggs may well matter to you. Welfare is well worth thinking about before you hand over your cash.
But brown eggs in themselves aren’t healthier for you, don’t taste better, or have any distinguishing characteristic other than their colour. The fact remains, however, that we think they do.
To satisfy both our egg palate and palette, UK poultry farms bred hybrid birds who could reliably turn out one brown egg a day, every day. A brown egg isn’t “organic” and a white egg doesn’t come from a battery hen. But, on this side of the Atlantic, we think that way.
In the US, they think the opposite. A white egg is pure, is clean, is hygienic. Brown? Shiver. You don’t know where it’s come from.
As sure as eggs is eggs, we’re going to have to differ on this. Doesn’t make much nutritional difference. We don’t eat the shell, after all. But supermarkets are only ever going to give us what we will buy. That’s black and white. (Or brown and white.) Obviously.