Eggs are one of the most elemental foods out there—and the most versatile. They’ve always played a role in human history—some say from the very start (a handful of creation myths recall an egg-like beginning). In ancient times, the Romans preserved them and dyed them to celebrate spring festivals—then crushed the shells to keep evil spirits from taking up residence. Folks in the Middle Ages were forbidden to eat them during Lent because they were too decadent.
To avoid ring-around-your-yolk, give hardboiled eggs a chilly bath in a bowl of ice water when they’re still steaming hot.
In Russia, carved wooden eggs were symbols of joy and happiness—except for Czar Alexander III, who preferred his eggs in jewel-encrusted form from jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé. The Brits have been rolling decorated eggs down grassy knolls for hundreds of years—a tradition Dolley Madison introduced on the White House lawn in the early 19th century. And these days, modern gals don’t mind a little egg on their faces—all in the name of beauty. The whites are a popular ingredient in face masks, while the yolks turn up in shampoos and conditioners. So are eggs versatile? Absolutely. And that’s before we even step into the kitchen.
We fry them and poach them. We coddle them, pickle them, and ferment them. (Ask me about the first time I deep-fried an egg. It was nothing short of ridiculous—and utterly delicious.) We patiently transform them into airy meringues and velvety custards. We use them to thicken sauces and bind crisp batters to succulent, deep-fried treats. The Chinese bury them for weeks in a mixture of clay and ash to make their thousand-year-old eggs. And at Easter, Americans dunk them in dye and buy pounds of their chocolate likenesses wrapped in gaily colored foil.
Here are four little-known tidbits about the delicious, ubiquitous egg.
1) What’s the difference, anyway? Brown eggs vs. white eggs. Nutritionally? None at all. Generally, white eggs come from white chickens, and brown eggs come from brown ones—but ultimately, a chicken’s genetics will dictate the color of the egg it lays. (Some even lay pastel-colored eggs.) Brown eggs are typically more expensive because they come from a larger breed of chicken that eats more.
2) Avoid green eggs with your ham. When hard-boiled eggs are overcooked, they can develop a harmless, but unappetizing, green-ish ring around the yolk—the result of iron and sulfur compounds in the egg that are drawn out by prolonged exposure to heat. This green halo won’t affect the taste but can make you look like you’re serving up snacks fit for Dr. Seuss. To avoid ring-around-your-yolk, give hardboiled eggs a chilly bath in a bowl of ice water when they’re still steaming hot.
3) Beating egg whites: Details matter. Egg whites are basically a network of tightly coiled proteins. As you beat them, those proteins relax, straightening out to trap and hold air, which is what creates volume and makes them poof up. For a fluffier foam, bring eggs up to room temperature before beating. Those proteins will be more elastic, which means they’ll beat up thicker. Also, cold eggs release moisture as they warm up. That water can bog down your foam.
Beating egg whites in a copper bowl will strengthen their proteins, which stabilizes the foam—and helps keep it from getting grainy. The result? Thick, glossy whites every time. Don’t have a copper bowl? Try adding a pinch of cream of tartar to the whites for a similar effect. You can rescue an overbeaten foam by carefully beating in another white until the mixture is smooth again.
4) Get fresh with your eggs It’s easy to tell if an egg is fresh—if you know what you’re looking for. All eggs come with a built-in air pocket. It’s that little bubble you see between a hardboiled egg and its shell. Eggshells are porous, so over time, carbon dioxide escapes and is replaced by oxygen. The larger the air pocket is, the older your egg.
Here’s a quick test. Gently drop an uncooked egg into a glass of cold water. If it sinks to the bottom and lies on its side, it’s fresh as can be. If the air pocket is a little bigger, it will stand up, revealing that it’s slightly older. And if the air pocket is so big that the egg floats on the surface, it’s just plain old.
Jessie is the woman behind The Hungry Mouse, a Web site that offers users step-by-step visual cooking instructions. Jessie's recipes and food photography have been featured in a handful of places, including online in Saveur, Serious Eats, The Kitchn, Chef's.com, and The Chicago Sun Times. When she's not busy shopping for cheese or baking pies, Jessie works as an advertising copywriter and creative type.