Cuticle and Color

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
The hen’s finishing touch on her egg is a thin proteinaceous cuticle. This coating initially plugs up the pores to slow water loss and block the entry of bacteria, but gradually fractures to allow the chick to get enough oxygen. Along with the cuticle comes color, in the form of chemical relatives of hemoglobin. Egg color is determined by the hen’s genetic background, and has no relation to the egg’s taste or nutritional value. Leghorns lay very lightly pigmented “white” eggs. Brown eggs are produced by breeds that were originally dual-purpose egg and meat birds, including Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Rocks; New Hampshire and Australorps hens were bred for intensive brown-egg production. Chinese Cochin hens paint their eggs with fine yellow dots. Thanks to a dominant trait unknown in any other wild or domestic chickens, the rare Chilean Araucana lays blue eggs. Crosses between Araucanas and brown-egg breeds make both blue and brown pigments and thus green shells.