Eggs are the one food that comes to mind when you think of staple food in the culinary world. We’re referring to chicken eggs here.
These familiar white and oval yolk shells are used in sweet and savoury recipes. They can be used as the main attraction, side dish, or hidden hero to bind different ingredients together while baking and cooking.
Using the right treatment, eggs can be magically transformed into delicious foods, such as meringues or mayonnaise. You can also cook them by boiling, baking, poaching, or scrambling them. Despite their versatility, eggs have their downsides. This article will cover almost all aspects of eggs and tell you if they are good or not.
An overview of eggs
Since the beginning of time, humans have been eating eggs. Our cave-dwelling ancestors likely discovered eggs were rich in nutrients and would eat them raw from wild nests.
Humankind advanced as a species, and our forefathers began to cultivate crops and raise animals. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Chinese first raised hens over 5,000 years ago. Europe and the Middle East followed their lead.
They even invented an artificial incubator in ancient Egypt. This is essentially a mud oven that has heat and moisture. It was used to hatch thousands of eggs within a matter of weeks. Some Egyptian rural communities still use this ingenious device to supply poultry.
Cage egg farming controversy
Cage egg farming was established in the world 50 years ago due to the growing demand for eggs. Factories were created to produce as many eggs as possible at a low cost. This meant that too many chickens were kept in tight-packed cages that restricted their movement. This caused various health problems, including feather loss and brittle bones. It also gave rise to mental distress. This intensive farming method is unethical and very harmful to the environment. The problem lies in conventional hen feed. It is mostly made from cereal grains, which require large land areas to cultivate. This has led to deforestation.
Recent media coverage has highlighted the negative aspects of cage egg farming, which has led to many consumers refusing eggs from caged chickens. Several countries have published codes of practice to address the issue. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs in England has a 41-page document that details lighting, climate control, and the minimum space allowed per hen to be kept in a cage. However, not all farms follow the guidelines.
Organic and free-range
Free-range eggs and organic eggs are becoming more popular as people attempt to eschew eating caged eggs. What is the difference? Although free-range hens can enjoy the outdoors during daylight hours and stay inside at night, they are restricted in their movement and must be properly controlled.
Organic eggs are very similar to free-range eggs in that they allow the hens to run free but are not given antibiotics or genetically modified feed. This is the norm for both caged and free-range flocks. Organic hens are also raised in smaller groups.
You may also find egg labels that include omega-3 enriched eggs, hormone-free eggs, pasture-raised, hormone-free, and vegan eggs, depending on where you live. These labels can be found in hens that are fed a plant-based diet. Some labels can be confusing, and others may contain misleading terms. If you are looking for the best egg, it is worth researching each type. This is because you will want one with animal welfare and sustainability at its core. These are important factors for conscious egg buyers.
Are eggs good for you?
Eggs are touted as a great source of protein, with large eggs containing about 6g. Choline is also a great ingredient that boosts your metabolism and helps you function better. Eggs are low in calories, with an average egg having around 78 calories. This makes them a great choice for light, nutritious meals or snacks.
Many would point out that eggs have a high cholesterol content. Cholesterol, a fatty substance, can build up in blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other health problems. Each egg yolk contains approximately 185 mg of cholesterol. This is more than the daily recommended US amount. Some people are now concerned that eggs may not be as healthy as they thought. Many organizations, including the British Heart Foundation, have dispelled this myth. The fact is that cholesterol found in foods has negligible effects on blood cholesterol levels. It is much more important to avoid saturated fats. Fortunately, eggs are low in these.
Eggs are healthy and nutritious, provided you take care of how they are prepared. Boiling or poaching eggs is better than butter frying because it reduces fat consumption by half. You can still enjoy eggs in the sun, despite all your concerns.
Food poisoning and raw eggs
The presence of salmonella was a major reason for the British public to avoid eating raw eggs in 1988. This stigma has remained with them for nearly three decades. The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) announced in 2017 a change to its advice on eating eggs. Scientific evidence declared that all ‘Lion Mark” eggs made in the UK were free from salmonella. Infants, pregnant women, and older persons at risk of infection could now eat raw eggs and foods containing salmonella.
What caused this change? FSA attributes it to improved testing for salmonella, better vaccinations of hens and better hygiene on farms.
The Food & Drug Administration (FDA), in the United States, has not made such bold statements as to its British counterpart. However, it has required egg producers to pasteurize or wash eggs with a specific detergent. Preventive measures in poultry houses require that eggs be kept refrigerated throughout transportation and storage.
Raw eggs are a common part of the diet in Japan and Korea. Both countries have strict regulations to prevent contamination.
However, low risk does not necessarily mean no risk. Salmonella can still be found on eggshells, particularly if purchased directly from small farms. You can reduce the risk by throwing out cracked eggs and washing your hands with soap after handling eggs.
The yolk colour
Nothing is more satisfying than seeing a yolk pour onto a plate from a cooked egg. An egg’s centre can take on many different hues depending on her food. If the hen has a diet high in pigments known as xanthophylls, then these pigments can be passed on to the yolk.
For example, the Burford Brown eggs from British egg supplier Clarence Court have the quintessential golden yolks. They are obtained by giving their hens a variety of food that includes maize and sunflower and marigold, paprika, and other vegetables. Darker orange yolks are also produced by hens raised on pasture.
But how does the yolk color affect the nutritional content? Scientists insist there is no correlation between the two. A 2014 study showed eggs with higher vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids produced when hens are fed a healthy diet, including supplements like flaxseed and chia.
It is important to remember that, while most farms use plant-based ingredients to increase the orange color of their eggs’ yolks, some producers use synthetic additives to get the darker yolks consumers to desire.
How to store eggs
Do you store eggs in the refrigerator or not? This is the old question that divides rooms. While it is recommended to keep eggs in a cool and dry area at a temperature low enough to inhibit bacterial growth (e.g. salmonella), there are conflicting opinions about which place is best.
This is partly due to the way eggs are handled in different countries. It’s a standard practice in the US to use the fridge because American eggs are pre-washed before being sold. However, countries like Australia and the UK don’t wash their eggs. Some supermarkets keep eggs at a lower temperature than recommended. In the UK, this is below 20 degrees Celsius.
Suppose you decide to keep your eggs in the refrigerator. In that case, it is best to keep them in their original carton (to prevent them from absorbing any odours in the fridge) and on the main shelf (for a consistent temperature to ensure maximum freshness).
No eggs can last forever. If an egg is cracked open and the yolk is flat or discoloured, the egg has likely gone bad.
Egg preparation tips
Eggs are everywhere: you can find them in every cuisine and for every occasion. It is not surprising that egg use around the globe seems endless.
Omelettes are an easy yet delicious recipe for eggs. Many countries offer their unique interpretations. The French prefer a traditional version with just butter and whisked eggs for a rich, creamy taste. In Japan, mirin, a sweet rice wine, is added to the springy, rolled Tamagoyaki.
Shakshuka is a tomato-based dish that uses eggs. It has peppers and spices such as smoky paprika.
Steamed egg custard is one of the most unusual ways to eat eggs in China and Korea. It has a smooth, set texture with a pale yellow hue. You can scoop it out and eat it with a spoon.
Other famous eggy creations include deviled eggs and Russian stuffed eggs, Scotch eggs from Britain (whole eggs wrapped with sausage meat and breadcrumbs), and Sri Lankan egg hoppers (a thin crepe with an egg in it).