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April 3, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 10 Faves: 3

Eggs 101: History, Science, Expert Technique + 3 Recipes You Won't Believe

By Erin Froehlich More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the Gastronomics Blog Series

A complete protein with a wealth of nutrients.

An ancient food enjoyed around the world.

The food whose mastery makes a master chef.

Large or small. Brown, white, or even green.

That’s right! What other food, but the incredible edible egg?

Eggs Throughout History

For as long as there have been people, there have been people eating eggs. While our oldest ancestors simply foraged for whichever type they could get, it wasn’t long before they got wise, became choosier, and started keeping the best egg sources nearby. From there, it was history!

 7500 BC: Junglefowl are captured and kept for eggs. 1500 BC: Chickens arrive in Sumer and Egypt. 800 BC: Chickens replace quails as the most popular egg source in Greece. 600 BC: Domesticated hens arrive in Europe. Middle Ages: Because of their richness, Eggs are forbidden during Lent. 1493: Christopher Columbus introduces chickens to the Americas. 1600: Eggs are scrambled by acidic fruit juice in France. 1878: Before freezing eggs become popular, eggs are dried for longevity. 1911: The egg carton is invented. 1972: Egg McMuffin is introduced nationwide. McDonalds is the largest purchaser of eggs today.

What’s In An Egg?

Egg Anatomy

1. Eggshell
2. Outer membrane
3. Inner membrane
4. Chalaza
5. Exterior albumen
6. Middle albumen
7. Vitelline membrane
8. Nucleus of pander
9. Germinal disc (nucleus)
10. Yellow yolk
11. White yolk
12. Internal albumen
13. Chalaza
14. Air cell
15. Cuticula

One Large Hard Boiled Egg:

77 Calories, 5g Fat, 212mg Cholesterol, 62mg Sodium

Satisfied Recommend Daily Allowances:

22% Selenium, 22% Choline, 15% B2, 13% Protein, 9% Vitamin B12, 9% Phosphorus, 8% Fat, 8% Saturated Fat, 17% B5, 6% Vitamin A, 5% Folate, 4% Calories,4% Zinc, 3% Iron, 2% Calcium

Egg Types

Source:

With a prolific supply and mild taste, chickens are by far the most popular egg source (and the type I’ll be focusing on). However, there are of course, other varieties of bird eggs that are sometimes eaten as gourmet or novelty ingredients. While I have yet to try a goose, quail, ostrich, gull, or guineafowl egg, I have personally tried the second most popular egg variety, duck, when I was young and my grandparents kept both hens and ducks in a coop on their property.

Admittedly, it’s been quite awhile since I had one, but as I remember, the egg’s taste difference, as many people confirm, is related to the taste of the bird it comes from – while chicken eggs have a subtle chicken meat taste, duck eggs have a subtle duck meat flavor. Duck eggs are also, like duck meat, a bit richer and fattier than chicken eggs are. I don’t know for sure, but assume the same could be said of goose, quail, or ostrich eggs and meat. Their eggs taste a little like their meat.

Shell Color:

While a chicken’s egg shell color (which is caused by the particular chicken breed’s oviduct pigment) has no known affect on the egg’s flavor or nutritional makeup, it is interesting to note the distinct cultural preferences for one color over another.

Because of a historical belief that they were somehow cleaner and more pure than brown eggs, chickens that produce white eggs became the most popular choice for big egg producers. However, trends are now changing back. Because white eggs are now associated with those big egg producers in many countries, and brown eggs, with small farms, brown is the favored egg color now. Interestingly, New Scientist Magazine notes, while studies have actually shown a distinct advantage to the variety - the strongest  chicken egg shells available-  there has yet to be a large demand for green and blue chicken’s eggs laid by Araucana hens.

egg colors

Grade:  

According to the experts, an optimal egg has “whites that are thick and firm; yolks that are high, round, and practically free from defects; and clean, unbroken shells.” Eggs that meet this standard are awarded with an AA grade, eggs that just miss this standard are just given an A grade, and eggs with thinner or stained shells, or with wider and flatter yolks are given a B grade. B grade eggs, while perfectly fine to eat, are typically used in processed egg products and are very rarely available by the carton in grocery stores.

Free Range/Organic:  

As people are becoming more knowledgeable of commercial farming practices, many are choosing to pay more for eggs from their local farm, farmer’s market, or for free range/organic eggs at their grocery store. Unfortunately, with few regulations concerning the “free range” label, chickens producing the eggs with the "free range" label may be almost as bad off as those kept in cages. Americans concerned with the living conditions of chickens are encouraged to look for eggs that are “Certified Humane” – the strictest label and one that requires hens have access to the outdoors and a vegetarian diet - OR, even better, to support small local farms that follow ethical practices.

Hopefully soon, we'll catch up with Europe who has recently taken things a step further and has banned “battery cage farming” – a common practice of keeping egg laying hens confined to small wire cages – altogether.

Selection and Storage

Believe it or not, proper storage of your eggs may actually depends on where you purchased them! In the US, eggs are washed to remove to debris, but because this causes some shell erosion, our eggs must then be refrigerated to avoid salmonella poisoning. In Europe, and in some small US farms, eggs are not washed and so they are actually safe to store unrefrigerated for several weeks before eating them!

Wondering if your eggs are still good to eat? To determine an egg’s freshness, place it in a bowl of water. An egg’s air cell continues to grow as it ages. If your egg stays on the bottom of your bowl or floats up just a little so it’s “standing” in the water, your egg is safe to eat. If it floats to the top however, you’ve got a spoiled egg.

Preparation

According to tradition, there are 100 folds on a chef’s toque (hat) representing each of the 100 ways a master chef knows how to cook an egg. Why eggs? They're famously fussy, and even experts can be tripped up by them. As Art Smith joked with judges on Top Chef, “I've had issues with eggs, okay? I've had so many issues, I could lay an egg!”

The thing is though, cooking a good egg is less art than science. It’s almost entirely a matter of timing and temperature and once you have those memorized, you should be cooking them like an expert every time!

Boiling

Egg Boiling Chart

Serious Eats Guide to Boiling Eggs: The 1st egg on the left in the top row was in boiling water for just one minute, the 2nd egg for three minutes, and each one after, add two minutes. The final egg, bottom row on the far right, was cooked for 15 minutes.

Boiling is actually a preparation in which using slightly older eggs is preferable. Because there is more air inside older eggs, the shell will peel more easily from them.

Whether you want a soft or hard-boiled egg, begin by gently placing your eggs in a stock pan, adding just enough cold water to cover them and bring the water to a boil. Once it’s boiling immediately turn off the heat and cover your pot. For hard boiled eggs, wait 15 minutes before removing eggs, for soft boiled (the type you dip your toast in), wait just 5. Once removed, rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.

AND, you’re to the dreaded peeling part. Personally, I’ve found that so long as I,1.) Use eggs purchased at least a week previous 2.) Don’t overcook my eggs and cool them down quickly after they’ve cooked, and 3.) Crack the shell even around the egg (starting with the wider base where the air pocket is) my eggs turn out just fine.

To aid in the peeling, I sometimes let cool water run over the eggs as I go. This also removes any little egg shell bits (gross!). There are other ideas floating around on the subject though. Some people say adding baking soda  to their water while cooking does the trick. Others say this makes that sulfur egg smell even stronger and isn’t worth it. Another idea floating around is to “boil” eggs in in the oven.I have yet to try these methods for myself, but I would be interested to see how they work!

Scrambling

As a huge fan of both Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares, I’ve heard Gordon Ramsey screaming about scrambled eggs more than once. I bowed my head for these poor, obviously hopeless, cooks. I mean, who doesn’t know how to scramble eggs?!  Turns out though, according to Gordon Ramsey’s perfect scrambled egg tutorial video, I’ve been doing it wrong all along.

First off, I was taught to whisk my eggs, milk, salt, and pepper before pouring them onto a hot skillet. Apparently though, adding salt at this time breaks down eggs  prematurely and can make them runny. Also, I shouldn’t have been pre-mixing – eggs should be broken into the skillet.  But enough about what I did wrong, here’s how to do it right.

Ingredients:

  • 4 Eggs
  • ½ Tbsp Cream  Fraiche OR heavy cream OR sour cream
  • Small “Knob” of Butter (4 tsp)
  • Chopped Chives OR green onions
  • Sea salt and cracked black pepper

Directions

  • In a cold skillet, simply break eggs and add butter. (No stirring yet!)
  • Turn on your flame and begin whisking with a spatula.  Once slightly thickened, take your skillet off the heat and continue stirring.  Alternate stirring eggs in the skillet off heat and on heat 3 or 4 times to prevent eggs from becoming too dry while they come together. Eggs should be creamy and fluffy when done.
  • Once your scrambled eggs have achieved the perfect creamy, fluffy consistency, stir in your cream fraiche (or equivalent), season to taste with salt and pepper, and gently mix in your chopped chives.

Poaching

Poached EggsMmm… poached eggs. My parents had a special contraption for cooking them, but you don’t actually need anything fancier than a straight-sided skillet! As with boiled eggs, you can choose to leave the yolks runny or to cook them full through like a hard-boiled egg.

Heat about 2 inches of water in a 12-inch straight-sided skillet until it’s just about to boil and little bubbles have formed all along the edges and you'll be ready for egg prep. Crack eggs into a small bowl or cup and when bubbles start breaking your water’s surface, gently pour each egg in leaving enough room between them to avoid their merging. Wait 3 to 4 minutes for set whites and runny yolks. Wait 9 to 10 minutes for fully cooked eggs.

When eggs have achieved your preferred level of doneness, use a slotted spoon to remove them. Serve with a little butter, salt and pepper.

Odd Eggs: 3 Egg Dishes I'll Bet You've Never Tried

Eggs in Purgatory

FOOD AND WINE: Mexican Eggs in Purgatory

"For the Italian breakfast dish Eggs in Purgatory, eggs are baked in a spicy tomato sauce. In this Mexican-inspired take, Grace Parisi substitutes a vibrant, fresh green sauce made with tomatillos, cilantro and scallions"

FOUR POUNDS FLOUR: The History Dish: Seven Hour Eggs

"In his Sephardic Cooking, Copeland Marks reports having eaten ‘Jewish eggs’ among Calcutta Baghdadies, in Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and Greece...The eggs are brought to a boil, then cooked over a low heat ‘for at least 5 hours, preferable 6′...The moment I cracked my slow-cooked eggs, my mind was blown.  The whites had turned a distinctly brown color....I took a bite: meat.  The egg tasted like a pot roast.  Closer to the yolk, I encountered the distinct, nutty flavor I had read about in McGee’s article.  Like hazelnuts and walnuts."

Eggs in a Cloud

SIMPLY RECIPES: Egg Nests/Eggs in a Cloud

"You separate the egg, whip up the egg white, form a nest with the whipped egg white, and bake it with the yolk in the middle. 3 ingredients—egg, salt, and Gruyere. The hardest part is whipping the egg white. And the result? We loved it."

How do you like your eggs?

Sources:

McGee, Harold (2004). McGee on Food and Cooking. Hodder and Stoughton. p. 70

Brothwell, Don R.; Patricia Brothwell (1997). Food in Antiquity: A Survey of the Diet of Early Peoples

Montagne, Prosper (2001). Larousse Gastronomique. Clarkson Potter. pp. 447–448

Incredible Egg.org: http://www.incredibleegg.org/egg-facts/basic-egg-facts/history-of-egg-production/from-ancient-times

http://commons.wikimedia.org

http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/dairy-and-egg-products/117/2

Roux, Michel; Martin Brigdale (2006). Eggs. Wiley. p. 8. ISBN 0-471-76913-4.

Stadelman, William (1995). Egg Science and Technology. Haworth Press. p. 1.

A Blue Story. New Scientist. 1976-02-26. Retrieved 2011-04-06

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:31999L0074:EN:HTML

http://www.eggindustry.com/cfi/faq/

http://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/AS/AS-518.pdf

http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-16609821.html

http://www.seriouseats.com/2009/10/the-food-lab-science-of-how-to-cook-perfect-boiled-eggs.html

http://lifehacker.com/5199462/gordon-ramsay-demonstrates-the-perfect-scrambled-egg-breakfast

http://www.fourpoundsflour.com/the-history-dish-seven-hour-eggs/

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10 Comments

  • Erin, I loved the blog I never thought about how many parts an egg actually has (15) wow! When I think of an egg I think yolk and white. Even though I always pull off the Chalaza (I always called it the white stringy thing) before I scramble or fry the egg.

    I was in charge of bringing deviled eggs for Easter hors d'oeuvres, I actually add a couple chopped up green olives with the yolks along with some dill pickles and topped it with a sprinkle of Salad Supreme.

  • Awesomeness. I have going to have to rethink my egg scrambling technique now!

  • This is awesomely in-depth stuff! I love me some eggs, so a lot of this information will stick in my brain next time I fry one up! Who knew the egg was so multifaceted?

    Also, I'm definitely going to try to make that Mexican eggs in Purgatory dish, looks amazing.

  • Nancy- It's a close run between souflees, but deviled eggs may be my favorite egg-based dish when it's done right and your's sound like they were! :)

    I'll probably eat and enjoy them in whatever shape they're presented, but I'll admit, I've been disappointed when the person in charge of making the deviled eggs 1.) didn't remove the membranes from the white (gross waxy texture! ;p) 2.) didn't mix the yolk thoroughly (gross texture!) or 3.) used Miracle Whip rather than the plain, full fat Hellman's mayo (it's a taste thing).

    My dad always made the best deviled eggs. He'd used a fancy filling tool, so they were beautiful sprinkled with a little paprika, but the real key he told me was his secret ingredient - a little pickle juice. Now all my eggs have a little pickle juice and finely chopped pickles, as well as MY secret ingredient - a little sriracha. Sometimes a little fine chopped sweet onion also.

  • Sprouty-

    Yeah! And you think scrambled eggs are one of the most basic dishes you can make. It's one of the first things I learned to make at least, and one of the first things I taught my daughter. I had figured out from trial and error that my eggs would be fluffier if I let them rest at first and didn't stir them to much, but I had no clue about the rest!

  • Kyle-

    Glad you enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun researching it and learning about eggs myself! I really want to try those eggs in purgatory as well. I haven't done many baked egg dishes, it sounds delicious, and I love the name. So dramatic! :)

  • Nice cooking tips!

    Where did you find that a single chicken egg was over 200 calories? They are actually one of my favorite snacks for less than 100, a mere 80 in fact! Check out the USDA Nutrient Database for more specifics: http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/117

  • OMG! Those calculation are for a 1 CUP of hardboiled egg, not for 1 single hard-boiled egg! *smacks forehead* Good catch! Should be fixed now.

  • I didn't know that there were so many different types of eggs.

  • I also didn't know that the egg had so many parts!

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