The other day I was making a batch of cookies with some pastured eggs, and I wondered whether my eggs were pasteurized as I scraped out the bowl.
The reality is that the terms “pastured” and “pasteurized” describing eggs aren’t mutually exclusive and mean completely different things. The term “pastured” implies that the hen laying that egg lives much its life on pasture or a similar outdoor setting. On the other hand, “pasteurized” means that the egg is treated by pasteurization to kill all bacteria (such as salmonella).
As mentioned above, it’s essential to understand that pastured and pasteurized mean entirely different things when they are applied to eggs. You can have pastured eggs that are either pasteurized or unpasteurized. While they may be terms that sound similar, they refer to completely different ideas, and they are entirely unrelated.
This makes much more sense when you realize that pastured refers to grassy lands. On the other hand, pasteurized refers to the French chemist (and excellently bearded), Louis Pasteur, who discovered the biological principle that is so important in pasteurization.
What Are Pastured Eggs?
So here’s the deal: the government hasn’t established an official definition for pastured eggs and therefore there is some variance in what farmers mean when they use that word. While there isn’t a formal agreed-upon definition, it’s generally understood that “pastured eggs” implies that the laying hen has generous access to the outdoors and the ability to feed on plants and insects in addition to its regular feed.
The type of outdoor access the laying hen has can vary and may imply access to pastures, fields or even woodlands. The consensus amongst farms is that pastured eggs are raised in a much more natural and humane environment for laying hens.
As this term doesn’t have a specific legal definition, we recommend that you do a little extra homework on the farm when you see them use the word pastured. It may sound odd, but we often find it really helpful to see if the farm is active on social media. We like to look for small farms that are proud to show off their animals and actually show the living conditions of their laying hens.
What you’ll see for many farms that sell pastured eggs is that they use a mobile coop that allows the hens to roost at night in the coop while searching for food like plants and bugs on the pasture during the day. Look for a chicken coop built on top of a trailer made with some serious DIY skills (these farmers are no joke, they can put together some pretty impressive rigs). These coops being mobile allows the farmers to frequently move the hens to fresh pasture so that they don’t turn the area to dirt.
Ask anyone who has ever raised chickens, and they’ll tell you: those hens will turn any pasture or lawn to dirt given enough time. Therefore, we consider mobile hens to be happy hens.
How Do You Pasteurize an Egg?
OK, now that we understand pastured eggs let’s take a step back and talk about exactly what we mean when we say an egg is pasteurized. First things first, pasteurization is a process used to kill germs found on raw eggs. The process of pasteurization can be done either at home or on a commercial scale and then sold in stores. Usually, eggs are pasteurized by being submerged in a water bath and then heated up to a temperature that effectively kills bacteria.
This process of pasteurization doesn’t wholly cook an egg, so, therefore, you can still use pasteurized eggs in place of raw eggs. However, it’s worth noting that pasteurized eggs do you have a slightly different appearance and texture than the fresh eggs you may know so well. While it is true that pasteurized eggs don’t carry the risk of salmonella or other bacteria, I generally don’t consider buying them unless I’m going to be potentially eating raw egg at some point (looking at you, raw cookie dough) as I’m usually cooking the eggs I buy.
Are All Eggs Pasteurized?
I’m not going to lie to you; this part is about to get a little technical.
Before we answer this question it’s important to make this distinction: government rules consider raw eggs to be different than egg products. In this case, egg products refer to things like containers of egg whites or dried eggs (think anything that is derived from eggs but doesn’t come in a carton). The government rules state that all egg products sold in stores must be pasteurized or made from pasteurized eggs.
On the other hand, raw eggs are not required to be pasteurized and typically are not sold as pasteurized in the store. The eggs that you and I are used to buying are most likely not pasteurized as most people prefer the texture and freshness of the raw eggs. The pasteurization of fresh eggs before being sold to the public is an entirely voluntary process in the United States, as pasteurization is unnecessary when buying eggs that will be cooked.
How Do You Know if Eggs Are Pasteurized?
So, now we know what pasteurization is and how it completely differs from pastured eggs. But how exactly can you tell whether the eggs you’re buying in the supermarket are pasteurized?
No surprise here, but it’s pretty simple.
Most of the time you’re merely going to be looking for a carton that specifies that the eggs have been pasteurized (learn more about buying eggs by clicking this link). As pasteurized eggs are not what most consumers expect when they buy a carton of eggs, you can rest assured that the carton will prominently declare that the eggs are pasteurized. It’s important to note that there are a few national companies that are focused on pasteurized eggs. One such company is called Safest Choice, and their line of pasteurized eggs are marked with a capital ‘P’ with a waxy substance.
If, on the other hand, you are interested in finding some pasteurized pastured eggs (say that ten times fast) but so far you’ve struck out, you’re just in luck. As the process of pasteurization is relatively simple, it’s effortless for anyone to do at home and is a wonderful little DIY project (mostly so you can say that you’ve pasteurized eggs, as that sounds pretty cool). It mostly involves slightly “cooking” the eggs at a low temperature for a short amount of time and then rinsing the eggs off in cold water afterward. You can find an excellent rundown of the full process by clicking on this link.
So, with a little bit of learning and some patience, you can safely enjoy cookie dough made with those great pastured eggs once you’ve DIY pasteurized them at home. I’m assuming that’s what we’re all here for, anyway. Speaking as someone who’s always enjoyed the cookie dough more than the actual cookies (not sure if that is a controversial opinion), I’m glad I can now safely eat cookie dough made from some of the best eggs around.