why do Japanese chicken eggs have orange yolks?

During a recent visit to Japan, I noticed that the chicken eggs I was served had very orange yolks compared to what I’m used to here in the US, where they’re somewhat more yellow. What’s the reason for this? Different breed of chickens? Different feed? Something else?

It’s mostly a feed difference: American battery farm hens are fed mostly corn, while Japanese hens are more likely to be fed a balanced blend of rice husks, vegetables, insects and other things. If you buy free range eggs in the US, you’ll find darker yellow or orange yolks, as well.

There’s also a breed difference: the Japanese have a strong preference for darker yolks, and their chickens have been bred to produce them.

Our hens free range during the day and produce eggs with a very orange yolk. During their laying season I eat 1-3 eggs a day. Once they stop laying for the winter, I rarely eat and egg other than those used in recipes. Their taste is blah.

Marigold flowers are commonly added to chicken feed to give the yolks more color.

Marigold feed

Marigold is used in some sections of the poultry industry to affect skin and muscle color as well as feed conversion, but does not have an appreciable effect on egg yolk color.


I think you should reread that cite.

Iirc just increasing the proportion of alfalfa pellets in the feed will also darken the yolk.

In Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, he points out that in more traditional farming, egg yolk color changed through the year as the feed varied. According to him, chefs were taught how to cook differently with the different-colored yolks to take full advantage of the varying properties.

So, as others have stated above, it appears to be differences in the feed. And we may have lost some of our culinary richness by using factory farming methods for our eggs.

Sorry, that was a study in broilers. I’ll try to find the similar work done in hens showing no linearity in yolk color change in marigold fed hens compared to corn and alfalfa…

According to the Japanese food show (“Trails to Tsukiji” or “Trails to Oishii Tokyo”) I was watching the other day, some farmers add paprika to their feed mix for darker yolks. They feed more rice for very pale yolks. Google the show name. The episode, “Eggs of Excellence”, is online in a few places.

My wife had a masseuse who ended up marrying a complete nut-job who was a full-on doomsday prepper, and moved from the DFW area to somewhere remote in Missouri to set up their homesteading lifestyle and build a bunker. (they were actually on that Doomsday Preppers show about 8 years ago, believe it or not)

Anyway, as part of this whole story, early on in this process, she came back to the area a few times to give massages- presumably to raise bunker-building money. And she had what we’ve called “hillbilly eggs” ever since- they were free-range eggs that were terrific, and had yolks that were more orange than yellow. I’ve never seen any quite like that since.

That reminds me of a segment I heard on NPR’s “Story Corps” segment years ago, in which the interviewee talked about how when he was a young man on a farm in the 1940s those orange yolked eggs were looked down on as “country eggs”, something that only a complete hillbilly would eat. Back then sophisticated city dwellers wanted milder tasting pale yellow yolks. Contrast that with today, where foodies seek out the orange yolked eggs at farmers markets.

Interesting. I knew that some free-range poultry farmers grow giant pumpkins for this purpose, and that’s often done with the flesh of prize-winning giant pumpkins, because while it’s edible, it doesn’t taste good and has an unpleasant, Styrofoam-like texture.

In the very paper you claimed as a cite they reference:

Hasin BM, Ferdaus AJM, Islam MA, Uddin MJ, Islam MS. Marigold and orange skin as egg yolk colour promoting agents. International Journal of Poultry Science 2006; 5:979-987.

The eggs that Nigella Lawson uses on her show(s) also have orange yolks. I’ve bought free-range eggs from the farmers’ markets here and they don’t have orange yolks, just the regular supermarket yellow.

My understanding is that it has everything to do with diet. Other than marigold feed, it looks like peppers (whether red or green) and tomatoes also have an effect of making the yolk more orange, as do carrots, alfalfa, and kale.

I do remember the eggs in Budapest, even the commercial ones, having a very deep orange color to them as compared with pale American eggs. I don’t know what commercial chicken feed was like there, but it wouldn’t surprise me if something like paprika (being so ubiquitous there) was added to chicken feed to help get that kind of color.

WildaBeast, I think it’s quite well established that Americans in the 1940s had terrible taste in food.

Doesn’t anyone see this variation in the USA? Depending on where I buy my eggs, sometimes they’re yellow, sometimes they’re orange. This seems like normal egg yolk variation to me.

Some places do specialize in consistency, though. I can’t recall having an orange yolk in an Egg McMuffin, for example. But in supermarket eggs, color is all over the map.

I honestly don’t. They’re all kind of lemon yellow-ish to me here, as far as supermarket eggs go. The farmer’s market ones can get a little more orange-y.