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Buying free-range eggs in Japan

A friend of mine told me that shopping for free-range eggs in Japan is quite a challenge. Not only didn’t we know the kanji for “free-range”, but we also didn’t know that there are significant differences in the way birds are kept at different farms. Regulations do not oblige farmers to keep the birds outdoors. While some farmers provide pictures and explanations of how their eggs are produced, others give very limited information.

Free-range eggsIf you see a packet of eggs that says “Real organic eggs” (リアルオーガニック卵), what do you think this means? To me, the name implies that the eggs are free-range. But don’t be naive, they are not. There is simply not enough free space in Japan for all the chickens and hens to wander freely. However, organic (oganikku, オーガニック) is still good, because it means that birds are not fed with soybeans or corn (and presumably without GMO). Japanese farmers make feed with a mixture of sea products like oyster shells, grains like millet, ground barley, rice bran, and wheat waste, and sake waste.

By the way, what is all that fuss about hens walking in the pastures, basking in the sun, and eating fresh grass and bugs? It is all about good nutrition and a stress-free life. Yolks of free range eggs are often brighter orange than the light yellow of the caged ones.

Free-range eggsThey say that it is because they have a more natural, healthy diet.  Darker yolks are reported to be more flavorful, rich in vitamins and Omega-3’s. But some inventive farmers feed their commercial hens with such additives as marigold petals, dried seaweed or food with yellow-orange carotenoids.

Free-range eggsFree-range eggs are usually placed in a box with grains or straw, but to be completely sure, look for the following kanji:

平飼い (hiragai), which just means that hens are not caged.Free-range eggs

放し飼い (hanashigai) means that the hens have access to outdoors. They spend some time of their life outside of cages. Unfortunately, nobody but the farmer knows how long, or how big the pasture or grassy yard is. Luckily for us, hens that are not stressed (not in tight battery cages etc. as are commercial hens) lay more nutritious eggs.

Free-range eggs

For the best quality free-range eggs, look for 特定飼育卵 (tokutei shiiku tamago). This guarantees that hens over the age of 120 days are kept in a place with no more than 5 birds per square meter. I haven’t seen such free-range eggs yet though.

Article by Olga Kaneda

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