When I go to the grocery store to buy a carton of eggs, I’m confronted with seemingly endless choices. Should I get brown eggs or white, medium, large, or extra-large? And there’s the matter of grading: What is the difference between Grade AA and Grade A eggs? Is it worth paying extra for Grade AA eggs? So you can make the best choice for your family and wallet, here’s what you need to know.
What Is Egg Grading?
When I buy eggs at my local farmers market or get them from my neighbor’s chicken coop, I don’t mind that they aren’t exactly the same size or color. But when large egg producers raise and sell millions of eggs in the market, those variations do matter. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides an egg grading service to make sure that all of these eggs meet a certain standard. It’s a voluntary service—the egg producer pays for it and in exchange receives a USDA grading shield.
The grade letters—I typically see Grade AA, Grade A, and rarely Grade B, at the grocery store—represent the quality of the egg according to the USDA. Quality, in this case, refers to how the exterior and interior look, rather than the nutritional value or size of the eggs. The USDA examines the appearance and condition of the shell, yolk, and whites, and issues the egg a grade.
What the Grades Mean
The highest egg grade is AA, followed by A, then B, and the letter takes appearance and both exterior and interior quality into account. Here’s what each grades mean:
USDA Grade AA Eggs
According to the USDA guidelines, a Grade AA egg has “whites that are thick and firm; yolks that are high, round, and practically free from defects; and clean, unbroken shells.” This is the ideal egg. These eggs cost a little more than Grade A eggs.
USDA Grade A Eggs
Grade A eggs are basically the same except with whites that are only “reasonably” firm. You don’t have to worry—these eggs are perfectly fine to eat.
USDA Grade B Eggs
Grade B eggs can have some staining, and according to the American Egg Board, “may be decidedly misshapen or faulty in texture with ridges, thin spots or rough areas.” It’s unlikely that you will see Grade B eggs at your grocery store—they are more often used in commercial food production, like for freezing, drying, or turning into liquid eggs.
All eggs in the supermarket, regardless of their grade, are safe to eat. The main differences between the egg grades are their aesthetic. So if the appearance of your final dish is important, like when you’re frying or poaching an egg, a higher-grade egg will look prettier. Whisking an egg for an omelette or adding it to a cake? Go for a lower grade, especially if you’d like to will save some money.
A version of this article originally appeared on MyRecipes.com.