Why Eggs Are Cool

By Micah Duron

This is an egg.

These are also eggs.

And this a drawing of an egg.

Animals of all kinds produce eggs. The diversity of the family of egg-laying animals lead to similarly diverse eggs. Some eggs can barely fit in your hand, while others can hardly be seen with the naked eye. Some eggs have hard opqaue shells, while others are soft and transparent. The eggs typically consumed by humans are bird eggs, primarily chicken eggs. In all their diversity, bird eggs nevertheless have the same general structure: a hard calcified shell; a proteinous inner layer (the egg white); and a fatty, nutrient filled center (the yolk). All of these elements combine to form an ideal source of nutrition and nourishment for animals in ovo (Latin: "in the egg"), as well as for humans. But beyond their nutritional value, eggs are valuable for many other reasons, particularly in the culinary world.

The versatility of eggs within the kitchen cannot be understated. Its versatility makes them a chef's staple, a status that has endured for millenia. Illustrating the egg's capabilities in the kitchen is as simple as listing the sheer number of ways they are prepared:

Virtually any cooking technique one can think of, one can cook an egg with it. Note that these were methods of preparing eggs just by themselves. Eggs play vital roles in variety of dishes as well (frankly too many to list). The reason that eggs are so valued and so capable is due to the unique combination of proteins and fats contained within them.

The majority of the proteins of an egg reside within the egg white, and of these proteins, three primarily contribute to the culinary value of eggs: ovomucin, ovotransferrin, and ovalbumin. Ovomucin and ovotransferrin account for the bouncy, gel-like consistency of egg whites in fried, poached, and boiled eggs, and also accounts for eggs' remarkable ability to thicken sauces and soups. Ovalbumin gives eggs their distinctive sulfurous aroma and flavor. Ovotransferrin also plays a significant role in baking, where it acts as a stabilizer for egg foams, a foundational element in many treats and desserts.

Egg yolks are valuable mostly for their fat contents, and can be added to doughs, custards, and cremes to add richness and flavor. In such cases, it is common to first separate the egg yolks from the egg whites, which is usually done for the purpose of reducing the amount of added water, but also sometimes to save the egg whites for use later.

The simple egg, on the surface seemingly rather ordinary, is one of the most popular foodstuffs of humans throughout history. Its long history can be seen in how they have influenced human culture. For example, the origin of the word "oval" can be traced back to the Latin word for egg, "ovum." Through the course of human history, people have found numerous ways to cook and eat them, each way exploits the remarkable culinary properties of eggs. It was not until relatively recently that science has come up with explanations for these properties, so while the people of the past knew that eggs are cool, we are among the first to know precisely why eggs are cool.


Sources:

  1. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, Revised Edition, by Harold McGee. Scribner, 2004.