Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
It’s not warm when she’s away
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
And she’s always gone too long
Anytime she goes away
(with credit to the wonderful Bill Withers)
For the last few weeks I’ve been in Canada. And for the last few weeks I’ve missed Mexican food. But probably not the food you’d guess I’ve missed.
Carnitas, chiles rellenos, barbacoa, mixiote. No none of those. With over 200 Mexican restaurants in Toronto, those dishes are easy to find. What I most crave is something that Mexicans eat more of than any other nationality in the world. Eggs. Yes, eggs. Sunshine on your plate. Except, in Toronto, where there’s constantly cloudy weather.
If you live or have spent any extended time in Mexico, you will know that Mexican eggs are different. The most noticeable thing is color. In the U.S. and in Canada, egg yolks are yellow. In Mexico, egg yolks are orange.
I have wasted many hours of my life determining why the yolks have a richer, redder color. When I first started spending time in Mexico, I was young and impressionable, still in my fifties. And in those days I heard it was because Mexican chickens were fed marigolds and, when I saw all of those altars with all of those marigolds every Semana Santa, I guess I believed it.
Then I became older and slightly wiser and, after doing a little research and discovering that marigold petals would cost about fifty times more than the corn and soybeans that are usually fed to chickens, I decided that must be a myth.
Also a myth I’m reasonably sure is that the yolk color comes from annatto, the seeds from the achiote tree that are used to add sunshine to cheddar cheese. Annatto seeds might cost even more than marigolds.
I’ve read about other potential reasons for the rich, orange color.
One person wrote that it’s a natural occurrence caused by the breed of hens, just like some eggshells are white, some brown. But I found that the exact same breeds are used in the U.S. and Mexico.
Han Jianlin, a geneticist at the International Livestock Research Institute says the color in egg yolks, as well as yellowish chicken skin and fat, comes from pigments found in plants called xanthophylls, primarily lutein.
Now that fact I do believe and I do know it can be caused by both natural occurrences (yellow corn for instance) and synthetic additives that are included in poultry feed to brighten the color of yolks. In some countries, The Egg Marketing Board encourages producers to achieve a 10 to 12 on the 15 stage DSM yolk color fan by adding lutein in the belief that the eggs will be more appetizing in appearance (and people will of course eat more).
So is there more lutein in Mexican poultry feed than U.S. and Canadian feed? From what I can find out, no. Purina, who is a mega supplier in all three countries, doesn’t seem to use different ingredients for different markets.
So what does make the difference? Well I have a theory. Now it’s a totally undocumented theory. And egghead types may roll over in laughter when they hear it. But I think it has something to do with what happens to the egg after it’s laid.
But first I have to talk about something more important than the color of the yolk. After all, it’s just as enjoyable to share the company of a blonde as it is a redhead. Next I’d like to talk about something very personal and I need your help in a little survey.
Please raise your hand if you think Mexican eggs taste better than the eggs in Canada or the U.S. Sorry, I can’t see it. Could you hold the computer screen in front of your arm. There, that’s better. OK, now let me do a count. Don Day’s Wife has her hand up. Don Day has his hand up. You have your hand up. It’s unanimous. Well, even if you didn’t put your hand up, the YEAs still win it by a 2-1 margin.
Yes, I definitely think Mexican eggs taste better, richer. And I think the majority of people who’ve eaten Mexican eggs agree. And why? Well I think for the same reason that Mexican egg yolks are orange.
So back to my eggcentric theory.
As everyone is now well aware, eggs these days don’t come from farms, they come from factories. CAFOS or concentrated animal feeding operations is their unappetizing official name. In CAFOs, egg-laying hens are often crammed into tiny quarters with less space to stand upon than the computer screen you are looking at.
Unlike poultry meat operations in Mexico that are run mostly by American and Brazilian companies, poultry egg operations in Mexico are run mostly by Mexican companies. And Mexican companies do two things very differently with the eggs from the 60 million or so Mexican laying hens that are employed in the industry.
I used to always wonder why Don Day’s Wife rinses off Mexican eggs before she cracks them. I discovered that in the United States and Canada, eggs are put through a comprehensive washing process that includes scrubbing, rinsing, drying and spraying the shells with chlorine. In Mexico, nothing is done. The eggs are sold feces, feathers and all.
Alarmed? Well perhaps you should be. Or perhaps you shouldn’t. For in most of Europe, those American and Canadian eggs would be considered illegal. For that egg washing process is forbidden, based on the fact that scrubbing may damage an egg’s natural cuticle and make it more susceptible to contamination from bacteria like Salmonella.
So does that egg washing process also affect the yolk color and taste of U.S. and Canadian eggs? I think it might. And especially if you add in that second difference with Mexican eggs.
If you live, full-time or part-time in Mexico, you might remember your first time shopping in a supermarket. You picked up some butter, some cream and maybe some yogurt from the refrigerated cases and you searched and searched and searched for the eggs. Finally you had to ask and, to your surprise, discover that they were in the produce section. And then came surprise number two. They weren’t refrigerated at all.
Scary. Maybe. But not so much to me. I spent the first ten years of my life in Europe, in a home without a refrigerator and I can’t remember the eggs, that often sat around for two or three weeks on the counter, ever spoiling. Still today in Europe, eggs are usually sold at room temperature. In fact, EU guidelines stipulate that “eggs should be transported and stored at as constant a temperature as possible – a temperature between 66.2 °F and 69.8°F in the winter and between 69.8°F and 73.4°F in the summer.”
So why do they refrigerate eggs in the U.S. and Canada? Well there is a good reason. Because after the cuticle is potentially damaged by washing, there is a greater chance of bacteria contamination at room temperature. And yes, they do last considerably longer when they’re cooler.
But how do they taste? Well that’s part two in what some people might consider my scrambled eggs for brains theory. I think non-refrigerated eggs might taste better than refrigerated eggs. I think that wonderful thing that happens to beer might be reversed with eggs.
I’ve got one more point to make to support my theory. If you’ve ever holidayed in Europe, you know there’s another place in the world where yolks are more orange and eggs taste better.
I rest my case and count the days to when I’ll again be eating Mexican eggs with a crumble of chorizo.