Mostly feed. Like others said, you can get nice orange yolks in the US from places that practice free-range farming. Not all Japanese egg yolks are red/orange. Mine vary quite a bit depending on the store.

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Parts of the Japanese market find reddish yolks more desirable, so they make sure to provide food that imparts that color. Corn is not a heavily subsidized crop the way it is in the US, so there is probably more variety overall in the standard feed in Japan. Japanese farmers tend not to be organic/free-range/sustainability conscious since none of that is a selling point here, but mega-corp farming is also less prevalent so there are more smallish farms with more varied practices. That, on top of market preference is enough to make more strongly colored eggs more prevalent overall.


Beta carotene rich food makes the chicken skin yellower also. It also affects the butter from cows. Traditionally the butter had more color in the spring when cows were feeding on flowering plants. The different colors of American Cheese are supposed to be based on the different colors of real cheese, white and yellow (or yellow and orange) produced from cows based on what they eat. People have also consumed high doses of beta carotene to get a sort of faux tan because it makes their skin yellower.


The beta carotene doesn’t affect the taste but our customers are convinced they’re better so we keep our mouths shut.


Ruken:

The beta carotene doesn’t affect the taste but our customers are convinced they’re better so we keep our mouths shut.

Culinary adage: “First we taste with our eyes”


Apparently cheese from particular cows way back in the day was very yellow, and it caused other dairies to dye their cheese with annatto to fool buyers into thinking their cheese was as good as the cows whose cheese was yellow naturally. And this is why so many different kinds of cheese are dyed yellow today.

I suspect a similar phenomenon is happening with eggs. At one point in time, yolk color probably was a good sign of quality. But now it’s easy enough to fake it, so the correlation between color and quality isn’t really as strong anymore.

This kind of already happened with shell color. Used to be, commercial eggs, at least in the US invariably came from Leghorn hens, which laid white eggs. But local farmers often had Rhode Island Reds and other breeds who laid brown eggs, so farm fresh eggs were often brown, leading buyers to associate brown shells with high quality eggs. But now commercial farms are selling brown eggs in grocery stores and eggshell color is no longer a reliable indicator of quality. So it goes.


why do Japanese chicken eggs have orange yolks?

Because that is what the Japanese consumer wants.

However, in recent years, customers have been asking for even darker shades. While Canadians prefer lemon yellow, many countries, such as Japan, have been moving toward blood orange, and even red.

Here is the full article, and it is a good one.

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The Globe and Mail – 3 Jun 16
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Different yolks for different folks: Why we judge an egg by itscolour

Consumers preferences about the colours of their food, such as the yellowness of egg yolks or pinkness of salmon, vary by region. As National Food Reporter Ann Hui writes, one Canadian company has developed a tool that lets food producers find the...


Astaxanthin is a synthetic carotenoid developed by Dutch pharmaceutical company DSM that is used it the feed industry to color egg yolks and farm raised salmon. Marketed as Carophyll Pink. There is a set of color chips that the feed manufacturers use to formulate for the desired end result. A Yolkfan for eggs and a Salmofan for fish. Just like picking out paint at Home Depot.

The perception is that the darker the yolk color the healthier the chicken and eggs. At least that is what the Japanese consumer wants and what the feed suppliers are giving them.

Yes, you can get the same sort of results from free range chickens due to what they eat but it isn’t as consistent and becomes problematic on a large scale. All these orange and red egg yolks are not coming from boutique organic farms.


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TriPolar:

Culinary adage: “First we taste with our eyes”

Which is why it’s good to do the taste tests with added food coloring. Or blindfolds. But green eggs are fun.


Ruken:

Which is why it’s good to do the taste tests with added food coloring. Or blindfolds. But green eggs are fun.

I would not eat them here or there


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Balthisar:

Doesn’t anyone see this variation in the USA?

I go for the package that tries the hardest to convince me their chickens are pets–free range cageless, organic, etc. I know it only really means they’re fenced in a single cramped pen as opposed to a cage for one, but I try. I made waffles a couple weeks back. 6 eggs from the same package. All had different color yolks from lemon yellow to orange.

I want to raise chickens again, but they last a lot longer than they lay and I end up with more pets. Takes too much out of me to kill them (like if they get sick or something), so I can’t do the practical farmer thing and invite them to dinner when they’ve retired from egg-making. So I just have to keep on pretending the chickens with the best marketing staff are happiest.


Colorful yolks do not cause flavorful eggs, but they can have a common cause. Chickens fed the cheapest diet will have pale eggs without much flavor. Chickens with a diverse, healthy diet will have colorful eggs with a lot of flavor. It’s possible to make a very slight change to the cheap diet to give more color, without doing much for flavor or hen health, and while keeping it very cheap. But it’s more difficult to come up with a good diet that would leave the eggs pale. So while colorful eggs might or might not be good, pale eggs usually won’t be.


Inigo Montoya, just don’t buy the ones that proudly brag about how their hens are fed a 100% vegetarian diet.


Inigo_Montoya June 14, 2019, 7:34pm #33

Right. I know chikkins love themselves some bugs. And never get between a chicken and a mouse.


Dallas_Jones June 14, 2019, 8:18pm #34

The “taste it with your eyes first” is a real thing. That is why chefs value the presentation of a meal. If it looks good it will taste better. These artificial carotenoids are derived from algae and yeast sources, so they are as natural as free range bug eating chickens, it just seems wrong and artificial.

Serve a dinner of pale grey salmon and it will taste like shit. Make it red and you may say it was great. It is the same article. I used to work in the salmon feed industry and bought many a bag of Carophyll Pink, and Red. I think there is a Carophyll yellow too. Shit is expensive and only a little is added.

But it does have some health benefits. It was also added to brood fish diets, fish that will not be eaten but are producing eggs. It has shown real benefits for fish egg production. People are also buying these additives as anti-oxidants for personal health reasons, which are probably marketing woo.

Anyway, if it looks good, it tastes better.


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WildaBeast:

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.

Unrelated to eggs but, in this vein, I was reminded recently while watching a video about good versus cheap bacon that real smoke is more expensive but “better” in terms of the output.

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But, before the 19th century, people were always trying to find ways to keep the taste of smoke out of their food since it was just everywhere and permeated everything.