Phone

Foods

Eggs
Why Eat It
Varieties
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

The egg is an inexpensive source of high-quality protein (about 6 grams in a large egg) and an important source of riboflavin and selenium., as well as some iron. These attributes should make it one of nature's near-perfect foods, but the egg has one drawback: Its yolk contains about two-thirds of the total suggested daily maximum intake of cholesterol.

When Americans began to be cholesterol-conscious, the egg was one of the first foods they stopped eating: Following a gradual decline since World War II in per capita consumption of fresh eggs, a markedly steeper drop of some 22% occurred between 1980 and 1990.

In the years since cholesterol became a widespread concern, research has shown that saturated fat has a greater effect on blood cholesterol levels than dietary cholesterol does--and eggs are not a major source of saturated fat. A large whole egg contains about 5 grams of total fat, of which less than 2 grams are saturated. (By comparison, a cheeseburger made with extra-lean beef and only 1 ounce of Cheddar cheese has 12 grams of saturated fat.)

As with cholesterol, differences in the way cholesterol content is measured have resulted in new values for eggs: A study performed by the Egg Nutrition Board (whose values were accepted by the USDA) found that by the new measurement methods a large egg contains nearly 25% less cholesterol than previously thought (210 milligrams instead of 275). In response to these findings, the American Heart Association has raised its weekly acceptable egg intake for healthy people from three whole eggs (or egg yolks) to four. Those with elevated cholesterol still need to limit themselves to one whole egg or egg yolk each week.

Egg whites can be used freely: It is the yolk that contains all of the fat and cholesterol (as well as the major concentration of calories, B vitamins, and minerals). The white is almost pure protein--protein that is considered nearly perfect because of its exemplary balance of amino acids. Even if you are very concerned about your consumption of cholesterol, you can still take partial advantage of the egg's culinary usefulness and nutritional value by cooking with egg whites alone.

In recent years, a new health concern has been raised about eggs--salmonellosis (salmonella-caused food poisoning). Formerly found only when a cracked shell had allowed the bacteria (which are present in the chicken's intestines) to contaminate the contents of the egg, salmonella bacteria have now been found in clean, uncracked eggs. Therefore, washing the eggs before cracking them and observing other careful handling techniques may not be enough to protect you from infection. To safeguard your health, the eggs must be cooked at high enough temperatures to destroy the bacteria. Undercooked egg dishes, such as soft-cooked or sunny-side-up fried eggs, or recipes made with raw eggs, such as Caesar salad dressing or eggnog, carry the risk of salmonellosis.

USDA egg grades--AA, A, and B--indicate freshness as well as other aspects of quality. Federal grading is not mandatory, but most eggs sold in the United States are inspected by the USDA, marked with that agency's seal, and assigned a grade. Some packers comply with state standards comparable to the federal grading rules; some states also have their own grading seals. Eggs that do not bear the USDA grade seal must be Grade B or better. Most eggs that are assigned Grade B end up in egg products rather than being sold fresh.

Grading is based on the condition of the inside and outside of the egg, including the cleanliness, soundness, shape, and texture of the shell, the thickness and clarity of the albumen (white), the size and shape of the yolk, the presence of blood spots, and the size of the air cell or pocket (eggs dry as they age, so the fresher the egg, the smaller the air pocket). The interior of the egg is evaluated by one of two methods. Candling, or rotating the eggs over a high-intensity light, shows the size of the air cell and the condition of the yolk (this process was originally performed with candles, hence its name).

Varieties

Most supermarkets carry just one or two types of eggs: white and/or brown chicken eggs. Most white eggs come from the Single Comb White Leghorn. Brown eggs, which are preferred over white eggs by consumers in New England and some other parts of the country, are produced by Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire, and Plymouth Rock hens. The color of the shell--and, for that matter, the color of the yolk--has no bearing on the egg's quality or nutritional value. Duck, goose, or quail eggs are available at some gourmet shops or local farms.

Shopping

Almost all the eggs you'll find in the supermarket will be graded AA or A, and the two are very nearly comparable. Eggs are also sorted by size (actually by weight) when they are graded, and packed as Peewee, Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large, or Jumbo. There is a difference in weight of three ounces per dozen between each size and the next. Medium eggs are appropriate for many cooking uses, but baking recipes, which tend to be more specific in their requirements, generally call for large eggs. (Although the name "large" would suggest an egg bigger than the norm, this is the size that most people consider an average-sized egg. If you truly wanted to buy eggs that were bigger than normal, you would have to go for extra large or jumbo.)

Grading tells you a lot about the eggs you buy. Still, the way the eggs are handled after they leave the packing plant can determine their condition when you take them home. Refrigeration is vitally important to freshness: Eggs age as much in one day at room temperature as they do in one week of refrigerated storage. Therefore, buy eggs only at stores that keep them in chilled cases. Look for a date or freshness code on the carton. All USDA-inspected eggs are required to carry a three-digit number that indicates what day of the year they were packed (i.e., January first is 001; December thirty-first is 365). Look for the highest-numbered carton you can find. If kept refrigerated, the eggs should be good for four to five weeks from the packing date. In some states and localities, egg cartons must be marked with expiration dates after which they should not be sold.

When eggs are sold at a farm or at a nearby outlet, they may be displayed in "flats," or cardboard trays. It's best to be sure of their source when buying eggs locally; they may not be graded or dated, so the seller's reputation is your only assurance of quality. And the eggs should always be kept under refrigeration if that farm-fresh quality is to be preserved.

Check eggs carefully before purchasing; look for cracks, breaks, or excessive dirt. Gently jiggle each egg to make sure the egg is not cracked at the bottom and stuck to the carton. And be sure that the carton is packed at the top of your grocery bag, or the eggs may not survive the trip home. Get them home and into the refrigerator quickly.

Storage

Check again to make sure that no eggs have been broken in transit; remove any cracked eggs and discard them. It's not necessary or desirable to wash or wipe eggs before storing them, since this will remove their protective coating.

Store eggs in their original carton in the coldest part of the refrigerator. (The molded rack in the refrigerator door is not a good place to store eggs as they are exposed to warm air every time the refrigerator is opened.) The carton also protects the eggs from aromas of strong-flavored foods in the refrigerator; eggs can absorb odors right through their porous shells. Large-end-up (the way the eggs come in the carton) is the best way to keep them: The yolk remains centered in the white, away from the air pocket at the large end of the egg.

Although fresh eggs will keep for four to five weeks, their quality declines with time; the whites become thinner and the yolks flatter. For best flavor and appearance, use eggs that are less than one week old for frying or poaching; reserve older eggs for hard-cooking, scrambling, and baking.

Hard-cooked eggs can be refrigerated for up to one week. Since the cooking washes the protective coating from the shells, it's best to store them in a carton or covered container. Mark unshelled hard-cooked eggs with a penciled an X to distinguish them from fresh eggs. (If you forget which is which, place the eggs on their sides and spin them. A hard-cooked egg, with its yolk immobilized in the center, will spin smoothly and easily, while a raw egg will wobble.) If you are using within a day or so, shell hard-cooked eggs and place them in a bowl with cold water to cover them.

Eggs can be frozen, but not in their shells. Whites and yolks can be frozen together if they are beaten just until blended, then placed in small containers and tightly sealed. To freeze whites alone, separate them, then place them in containers and seal. Yolks need to be combined with salt, sugar, or corn syrup in order to be usable when thawed: For every four yolks, beat in 1/8 teaspoon of salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar or corn syrup; seal in containers and label as to whether you've added salt or sweetener. Thaw frozen eggs overnight in the refrigerator, and cook them thoroughly or use them in recipes as soon as they are thawed.

Preparation

In cooking, the two parts of the egg perform different functions. The yolk acts as a fat and, to some degree, as a protein, enriching, thickening, and emulsifying mixtures; it also adds color and flavor. Egg whites take in air when beaten, trapping air bubbles. The protein coagulates when heated, creating the structure that causes a cake to rise while baking. Egg white serves as a binder and thickener as well.

Cooking times will be more predictable and whites will beat to a fuller volume if eggs are brought to room temperature. To do this quickly, place them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes. On the other hand, separating egg yolks and whites is much easier and less risky when the eggs are cold; then allow the yolks and whites to come to room temperature.

It is possible to trim cholesterol and fat from egg recipes by cooking with fewer yolks than whites. Substitute two whites for one whole egg for up to half the eggs in scrambled eggs or omelettes. In other recipes, try substituting two egg whites plus 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil for each whole egg; this significantly reduces the cholesterol and saturated fat content of the dish, but drops the total fat content by only about 1 gram per egg. Sometimes you can simply substitute two egg whites for each whole egg, but only experimenting with your favorite recipes will tell which of them can be adapted this way: Eggs do perform very specific functions, especially in baking and sauce-making, and sometimes there is just no workable substitute or modification.

Beaten whites are the basis for meringue and angel food cake, which are both healthy dessert choices because they are low in fat. Here are some tips on separating eggs and on beating egg whites for successful baking.

Separating eggs: It's easiest for the inexperienced cook to use an egg separator. More practiced cooks break eggs by rapping them sharply downward on the edge of a bowl at the egg's "beltline." As the two pieces of shell are gently pulled apart and then held upright, the yolk will be left in one of the halves. After emptying the half-shellful of white into a small bowl, the yolk is carefully tipped from one shell half into the other, which causes any remaining white to flow into the bowl. The yolk can be discarded or saved for another use.

Beating egg whites: Beat the eggs just before you need them, not in advance. The other ingredients, the baking pans, and the oven should be ready. Use a large, deep bowl, and be sure it's free of grease. Begin beating with a whisk, an egg beater, or an electric mixer at slow speed; once the eggs are foamy, gradually increase the speed and beat until the whites are firm but not dry. When you lift the mixer out of the eggs, it should pull the whites into glossy peaks that neither fold over nor break; when you tilt the bowl, the whites should not slide. (If the recipe directs you to beat the eggs to soft, not stiff, peaks, the tips of the peaks should curl over as you lift the beater from the bowl.) Where a recipe calls for adding sugar to the egg whites, add it very gradually, just about a tablespoonful at a time, or it may decrease the volume of the beaten whites.

Either lemon juice or cream of tartar--both acidic ingredients--may be added when beating egg whites. They help to stabilize the beaten whites so they do not deflate so readily. Either ingredient will slow the aeration of the egg whites, so do not add lemon juice or cream of tartar until the whites have been beaten to the foamy stage.

The standard methods of cooking eggs are familiar to most people; here are some tips on the basic techniques.

Frying: The steam-basting method lets you fry an egg with a minimal amount of fat and for a safe length of time, but it still leaves it moist and tender: Spray a nonstick skillet with cooking spray (or brush it lightly with oil or butter), heat it over medium-high heat, and crack in the egg. Reduce the heat to low and cook for one minute, then add 1 teaspoon of water, cover the skillet tightly and cook for at least six minutes longer.

Omelettes: Making a perfect omelette is something of an art and requires a little practice. Omelettes can be made with whole eggs, or by replacing some of them with whites alone (use two egg whites for every whole egg, but substitute for no more than half the number of eggs in the recipe). For a simple firm omelette, beat the eggs with a fork until blended, adding 1 tablespoon of milk or other liquid for each egg. Spray a nonstick skillet thoroughly with nonstick cooking spray or brush it with a little oil or butter; heat the skillet over medium heat. Pour in the eggs and reduce the heat to low. As the eggs begin to set at the edges, lift the edges with a thin spatula and tilt the pan to let the uncooked eggs run to the bottom. When the eggs are firm, place a filling, if you are using one, on top of one side of the omelette and fold the other side over it. Or, simply fold the cooked omelette and slide it out of the pan.

Poaching: Traditionally, poached eggs are served with runny yolks, but for safety reasons you must cook them until firm. Bring 1" or 2" of water to a simmer in a saucepan or small skillet. Break an egg into a cup, then, holding the cup just above the surface of the water, gently slide the egg into the pan. Cook until the white and yolk are firm (at least five minutes). Lift the egg out using a slotted spoon, and drain it on paper towels.

Some cooks prefer to stir up a "whirlpool" in the simmering water (using the handle of a wooden spoon) before adding the egg; this helps the white to form into a fairly smooth round shape rather than trailing in shreds. Also, adding a little vinegar to the water will cause the white to coagulate more quickly, making for a tidier poached egg.

Poached eggs can be cooked in advance and kept in a bowl of cold water. Reheat them by dropping them into boiling water for a few seconds. Eggs poached and served in broth, soup, or tomato sauce make an unusual main dish.

Scrambling: Scrambled eggs can be made successfully with whites only, or with one whole egg plus one or two whites. Break the eggs into a bowl and beat them with a fork until blended (add a few spoonfuls of milk and any seasonings, as desired). Spray a nonstick skillet with cooking spray or brush it with a little oil or butter and heat the skillet over medium heat. Pour in the eggs. As the eggs begin to set, gently draw a spatula across the pan to break up the eggs into curds. Continue to cook until no liquid egg is visible.

Soft- and hard-cooking: Eggs should never really be "soft-boiled" or "hard-boiled," because rapidly boiling water can be turbulent enough to crack the eggs as they cook. It's best to start eggs in cold water that's brought slowly to a simmer. Place the eggs in a pan, add just enough water to cover them, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. As soon as the water comes to a boil, turn off the heat and let the eggs stand in the water for at least seven minutes for soft cooked and 17 minutes for hard-cooked. (The eggs will reach an internal temperature of 165°F, which destroys salmonella bacteria.) For easy peeling, drop hard-cooked eggs into cold water as soon as they are done (after the 17 minute waiting period), and then peel them immediately. Peeling under cold running water also helps prevent the grayish layer that sometimes forms around a hard-cooked egg yolk.

Nutrition Chart

Eggs/1 whole large

75
Total fat (g)
5
Saturated fat (g)
1.6
Monounsaturated fat (g)
1.9
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.7
Dietary fiber (g)
0
6
Carbohydrate (g)
1
Cholesterol (mg)
213
Sodium (mg)
63
Riboflavin (mg)
0.3
Selenium (mcg)
15

Egg Yolk/1 large

59
Total fat (g)
5
Saturated fat (g)
1.6
Monounsaturated fat (g)
1.9
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.7
Dietary fiber (g)
0
3
Carbohydrate (g)
0
Cholesterol (mg)
213
Sodium (mg)
7
Selenium (mcg)
7.5


Date Published: 04/20/2005
Previous  |  Next
> Printer-friendly Version Return to Top