Free Range Eggs

Egg Yolk Color and Richness

By Nellie's Kindness Crew

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Even if you don't eat eggs every morning, you've probably wondered once or twice why the yolks in your carton of Nellie's Free Range Eggs look darker than others you've purchased at the store or enjoyed at your favorite diner. Once you dig in, you might find that they taste better, too. Unsurprisingly, it all comes back to the hen.

What makes an egg yolk orange or dark yellow?

There are many factors that can influence the color and richness of an egg yolk. The most notable ones include:

  • Outdoor forage
  • Chicken feed
  • Age of the hen
  • Environmental factors

Outdoor forage

Free range hens that have access to green, grassy pastures tend to lay eggs with darker yolks than their caged counterparts. This is primarily due to the carotenoids (yellow, orange, and red plant pigments) found in the clovers, grasses, and other greens that the hens consume outdoors. Free range hens instinctually snack on insects and grubs too, which have a high concentration of protein and other nutrients that affect the color and quality of their eggs.

While free range has many benefits, it can also lead to more variation in yolk color than you might find in a carton of eggs from a factory farm. Every hen is unique, and differences in grazing habits from hen to hen and from flock to flock can result in a mix of orange and lighter yellow yolks in any given carton.

Chicken feed

The composition of and ingredients in the chicken feed available to a flock have a big impact on yolk color in the long run. Our Certified Humane Free Range hens spend most of their days foraging outdoors for bugs and tasty greens, but unlike cows or sheep, they are not ruminants and cannot subsist solely on the pasture that’s available to them. That’s why we provide our hens with a supplementary feed containing a wide range of beneficial nutrients and minerals that are essential to their health.

Flock age

As hens age, their grazing habits and feed composition change, and they tend to lay eggs with lighter yolks than hens in their prime laying days. While we wish we could guarantee a consistent color for all of our egg yolks, we feel that the benefit of giving our hens the freedom to live a longer life on our farms is worth any inconsistencies in yolk color that may result. We partner with over 45 farms that are family owned and run, which means at any given time, our flocks are all different ages. Despite any differences in appearance or flavor, eggs from older flocks still have the same nutritional value of eggs from hens in their prime layings days.

Environmental factors

Hens are sensitive to their surroundings, and small changes like a shift in season or temperature often affect characteristics like yolk color in their eggs. Generally speaking, these factors can't be controlled, but ensuring that our hens have access to a safe, warm, well-lit hen house keeps their stress to a minumum.

Does yolk color impact nutritional content?

The nutritional value of an egg can't be judged solely by yolk color, but darker yolks are usually a good indicator that the hen has been fed a healthy, varied diet. In other words, yolk color doesn't necessarily impact nutritional value, but it does correspond to the health of the hen herself.

Does yolk color indicate freshness?

The short answer is no: yolk color does not indicate freshness. Although egg whites can become "looser" or more watery over time, yolks generally don't lose their hue as they sit in the refrigerator.

Are darker yolks more rich and flavorful?

There's no proven correlation between yolk color and flavor, but most people agree that darker orange yolks tend to taste richer and more flavorful. This can be attributed to the diet of the hens: as is true of grass-fed meats and pasture-raised milk, the product of a humanely treated animal with access to a healthy, varied, natural diet tends to taste better.


Amelia MedeirosJanuary 22, 2021

Above info re color of egg yolk was very interesting as I can remember when I was young and we had our own chickens the yolks were dark as the chickens had a place to eat outside they did not stay inside during the day.


Hi Amelia! We're so happy to hear that you are familiar with free range living. Thanks for taking the time to read our blog!

Ben VJuly 19, 2020

Last several months, since COVID-19, Nellie's eggs have changed taste for the worse. It has become typical chemical laden junk egg. Hope company can explain what happened and revert to original food stock for their hens.


Hi Ben, we're sorry to hear you've experienced some disappointment with our eggs recently. We can assure you all our hens are still living happy lives with plenty of space on our free range farms, and we've continued to offer them the same 100% vegetarian supplemental feed alongside any bugs, grasses, or flowers they peck and scratch at in our pastures. If you can send us an email at [email protected], we'd love to hear more about your experience with our eggs and see what we can do to help.

John BJanuary 16, 2020

My name is John I wanted to know if you feed your hens feed that contains animal by products


HI John. Thanks for reaching out. Per Certified Humane rules, food additives such as antibiotics, hormones, growth promoters and animal byproducts are prohibited. Please let us know if you have any additional questions for us!

TinaAugust 02, 2019

Where may I purchase your eggs? Do all the major grocery store carry your ages.


Hi Tina! Thanks for reaching out to us. Yes, you'll find our Nellie's Free Range Eggs in many grocery stores nationwide. We welcome you to check out our egg locator for specific area information: Thanks for reaching out!

Teresa BowenFebruary 16, 2019

How long are Nellies eggs stored before they are put out on a grocery store shelf? Are Nellies eggs safe to eat raw?


Hi Teresa! We would encourage you to check out our other blog post called "Adventure of the Egg." The typical time from nest to table is about 25 days. That is well within what USDA recommends for fresh egg consumption and still leaves plenty of time for you to store in your refrigerator before eating. The 3 digit number printed on the outside of your carton tells you what day of the year the eggs were packaged if you're curious to see at the grocery store. Unfortunately, we cannot officially recommend eating our eggs raw, because they're unpasteurized, but you can pasteurize them in your own kitchen if you so desire. We hope this helps!

DavidJanuary 17, 2019

Where are the majority of your eggs produced? What states in the USA, or other countries if applicable? Thanks for the great eggs.


Great question, David! You can find a map of our 45 partner farms here:

AshleyJanuary 12, 2019

I discovered what yolks should look like when I went glamping and purchased fresh eggs from the owners of the campsite's gardens section. At first, When I cracked open the first egg, I was shocked at the rich orange color and thought something was wrong, then I thought about it. I can never go back to eggs with pale yellow yolks - I am thankful for the humane treatment and happy environment you provide your hens.


How fun, Ashley! We appreciate your support for local egg farmers and for our hens, too. Most importantly, thank you for voting for humane practices with your dollar.

Judith Gage-NesmithOctober 29, 2018

What a difference in the free range eggs! I’ve known that since I was a little girl, and I am 77 now! All my life I’ve looked for farm eggs and that orange gold yolk. I found it in your eggs!


Hi Judith! We too are glad that you found our eggs. Thanks for supporting our small family farms!

Regina WrightOctober 10, 2018

I read that corn helps give yolks a darker color. Do you include corn in your feed mixture?


Great question, Regina. Our supplementary feed is primarily made up of corn and soy, but we find that the high-protein insects and grubs that our free range hens forage for outdoors has a much greater effect on yolk color than other factors. We hope this helps answer your question!

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