For ages, people have been asking which came first: the chicken or the egg? But there’s another eggsistential question that’s also been debated for ages: Are eggs dairy or poultry?
We were eager to solve the age-old quandary once and for all, so we enlisted the pros to weigh in, and their insights might surprise you.
Are eggs dairy or poultry?
Eggs are typically found in the dairy aisle alongside butter and milk, but they come from chickens so it makes sense that many of us aren’t sure how to classify them.
A spokesperson for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) tells TODAY.com that eggs are considered a poultry product.
The agency’s website offers the following definition of poultry: “Poultry is any domesticated bird used for food. Varieties include chicken, turkey, goose, duck, Rock Cornish hens, and game birds such as pheasant, squab and guinea fowl. Also included are huge birds such as ostrich, emu and rhea (ratites).”
Meanwhile, the agency offers the following description of dairy: “Dairy products include fluid beverage milk, cheese, butter, ice cream, yogurt, dry milk products, condensed milk, and whey products.”
The USDA may classify eggs as poultry, but the American Egg Board’s Vice President of Research Dr. Mickey Rubin had a slightly more complicated response.
“Eggs are neither dairy nor poultry; eggs are … eggs. Since eggs come from chickens, they are sometimes grouped with poultry. However, poultry usually refers to meat from chickens or other fowl, like turkey,” he says.
On the other hand, Rubin noted, dairy refers to “milk from a cow or other domestic animal (such as a goat),” and dairy products like cheese and yogurt are made from milk.
So, whether or not eggs are considered poultry is still up for debate, but they are for sure not considered dairy.
Why do people confuse eggs for dairy?
Put simply, you can blame grocery retailers for this one.
“Egg placement in the retail store coolers with dairy products in retail spaces leads to an association of eggs and egg products with dairy products,” a USDA spokesperson says.
However, Rubin notes that proximity to dairy items doesn’t make eggs dairy items.
Classifying eggs is also confusing because vegans don’t eat them, which can make many people think they’re a dairy item. If you’re lactose intolerant and think that eggs are dairy, you’re also likely to avoid them.
Are eggs considered vegetarian?
Vegans and vegetarians differ in several ways, with vegans typically opting not to eat any items that come from animals. But are eggs OK to eat if you're vegetarian? Rubin offers the following insight:
“There are many variations of ‘vegetarian diet.’ The most common form of vegetarian diet — and the one recommended in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans — is known as a ‘lacto-ovo vegetarian diet,’ which is a diet that contains eggs and dairy foods but no meat,” he explains.
On the other hand, Rubin notes, a “vegan diet” is one that “contains no animal products (such as eggs) at all.”
Can you eat eggs if you’re dairy-free?
People often decide to become vegetarian or vegan due to personal preference, but if you’re on a dairy-free diet for medical reasons (such as lactose intolerance), you might be wondering if eggs are a suitable meal option.
According to Rubin, the answer is twofold.
“Eggs are not dairy, therefore someone who is dairy-free can still eat eggs. People with an egg allergy, however, cannot consume eggs,” he tells us.
How should you store eggs to keep them fresh?
Eggs might be having an identity crisis, but they do have something in common with both dairy and poultry products: They need to be refrigerated to keep them fresh.
“Always keep your eggs properly refrigerated. It’s best to place the eggs on an inside shelf. Repeated opening and closing of the door causes temperature fluctuations and slamming can result in breakage,” American Egg Board food safety manager Elisa Maloberti says.
According to Maloberti, eggs can stay fresh for more than a month when properly stored.
“As long are they are kept properly refrigerated (at 45 F or lower), fresh shell eggs are safe to be eaten four to five weeks beyond the carton’s Julian date (the date the eggs were packed in the carton),” she says. “The Julian date is usually found on the short side of the carton and represents the consecutive days of the year with the number 001 as January 1 and December 31 as 365.”
Your egg carton at home probably also has an expiration date on it, and Maloberti said this date signifies when eggs should be sold by, noting that they are typically still “safe to eat” after that date.
“On cartons with the USDA grade logo, the expiration date cannot exceed 30 days after the eggs were packed in the carton. Depending on the retailer, the expiration date may be less than 30 days. Eggs packed in cartons without the USDA grade logo are governed by the laws of their states,” she says.