If you've ever wondered if different color chicken eggs taste different, this summer could be your chance to find out. At New York City's Le Coq Rico, diners can pick exactly which egg they want to eat for brunch, pulling choice straight out of a basket filled with a rainbow of heritage-breed, Hudson Valley pasture-raised eggs. The new service has some customers a little confused, though the most common question servers get about these brown and blue eggs isn’t about where they’re from. “How do you dye them?” laughs Anthony Battaglia, the restaurant's general manager, though he quickly adds, “And it’s very sad, because we are not dying them!”
The reason for the different color eggs is simple. Different breeds of chickens lay different colored eggs, no food dye needed. And the chickens that lay the eggs served at Le Coq Rico are certainly unusual, raised in upstate New York to chef Antoine Westermann's exacting standards. The red-brown, terra-cotta colored eggs with speckles come from Welsummer chickens, and the light-brown ones are laid by Delaware chickens. The eye-catching blue-green eggs are from Ameraucana chickens, which are an American bird descended from a Chilean chicken of the same name, and the darkest brown eggs, nearly the color of chocolate, are a rare breed from southwest France called Cuckoo Maran.
When you're buying eggs from a conventional supermarket, you can't really taste a difference between brown and white eggs, but Battaglia insists the difference between these different color eggs is not just cosmetic. Much like heirloom tomatoes, he explains, these heirloom eggs all have their own qualities. "You’ll see how some are a little more chewy, some are a little more liquid but strong in taste," he says. And I could taste what he meant. The egg from the Cuckoo Maran had the most vibrantly colored yolk, which was accordingly rich, and the whites on the Ameraucana egg were delightfully crispy while the Welsummer whites stayed chewy yet soft. These distinctions between the different types of eggs were subtle, though, and I couldn't have told you which type of egg was which without the shells sitting side-by-side.
I could, however, certainly taste a difference between these heirloom eggs and the brown or white eggs I'd get at my supermarket. I ate these without any salt or pepper, they were so good. And this lack of exposure to high-quality eggs from well-loved poultry is part of the reason Battaglia thinks diners have been slightly confused by this rainbow of eggs. “When they go in the market, you only see white eggs or brown eggs, and those breeds are so rare to raise that people are not used to it,” he explains. “You can find them in some small markets, there and there, but it’s very unusual.”
Even if you're not chef Westermann and don't have the opportunity to source a rainbow of colored eggs from local farmers to your exacting standards, or can't check out Le Coq Rico before end of the summer to experience the table-side egg-bow yourself, you can still improve your egg game at home. The best advice Battaglia can give to someone looking buy better eggs is simple: "You would want to know how those birds are being raised." Buying organic eggs is OK, he explains, but that label doesn't say anything about the hens are treated throughout the day. Eggs from cage-free hens will probably taste better, but the definition of "cage-free: can differ between producers.
Ideally, you want eggs from pasture-raised hens, because that means the birds have freedom to roam on larger plots of land. The result will be tastier, richer eggs in your own kitchen—even if they aren't the colors of the rainbow.