The Biggest Difference Between Free-Range And Free-Run Eggs

Most grocery stores will have quite a few options if you're looking to buy a carton of eggs, including large to extra-large varieties, white and brown, regular and organic, enriched with omega-3s, and much more. You might also spot a few cartons labeled as either "free-range" or "free-run." But, what exactly do these designations mean, and which type of eggs should you be buying?

Both free-range and free-run eggs are laid by hens who have access to what are called free-run indoor housing systems, which basically signals that they have more room to move around within their indoor barn or aviary than when they're housed in cages.

The biggest difference is in whether or not they have access to the outdoors. While free-run hens remain in their indoor barn or aviary, free-range hens have additional access to outdoor areas where they can spend time as well. Though the total time spent outdoors will depend on the climate that particular hens live in, as a rule of thumb, free-range eggs should be produced by hens that can access the outdoors a majority of the time.

Does the designation really make a difference?

For many animal-loving egg consumers, the designation is worth it for reasons of animal welfare alone. Not only do free-range hens have access to fresh air and room to roam outside, but they may also have a certain amount of hours they're supposed to spend outdoors as well as a certain amount of space per hen. For people who care about the living conditions of the hens, it might seem like a no-brainer to opt for the free-range options rather than the conventional eggs laid by caged hens, even if it means having to pay a little bit extra.

And, while opinions vary about the nutritional content in different types of eggs, there is some evidence that suggests those hens roaming outside produce eggs that pack a bit more of a nutritional punch. For example, free-range eggs may have less cholesterol and saturated fat than regular eggs, while also containing more omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and beta-carotene.

Plus, a bonus for foodies who are serious about the hue of their yolk, free-range hens tend to produce eggs with darker yolks. While this doesn't make much of a difference in terms of nutrition, many believe that eggs with a darker, almost deep orange yolk tend to taste better and richer than their pale yellow counterparts.