Ode to the Egg
Text by Margie Lempert
Photos By Catherine Kendall
I always thought they were gross. My mother would soft boil one every morning: the sight of that oozy yolk ruining her perfectly good piece of toast made me shudder. How could someone eat something that smells like fart, anyway? Traumatic for a 15 year old to witness at 6:30am.
I wish I could tell you the first time I ate a plate of eggs, but I’ve no recollection. I’m sure I was in my twenties, and I’m sure it was in omelet form or else scrambled dry as a bone. It was definitely not poached or even hard-boiled – that would have been too much egginess for me to handle. Similar to my coffee progression (from milk and sugar with a splash of coffee, to Starbucks mochas, to espresso), my love of eggs came on tentatively, with caveats and in disguise.
Now I’m not afraid to admit that I am an egg enthusiast: fluffy, creamy, whipped, hard and, yes even runny and smelly, I devote Time to the egg. I hunt down the tastiest, and stay up late researching the best methods of preparation; I suppose you could say I’m obsessive. Turns out it’s a healthy obsession. Literally.
What’s in an egg?
Inside that small, fragile shell you’ll find a shocking source of protein, vitamins and minerals. In fact, the ratio of amino acids (protein) in eggs is so close to ideal for human nutrition, they’re used as the model for rating quality of protein in all foods (pretty much stole that sentence right out of Nina Planck’s Real Food). Just one egg will provide you with 10%-30% your daily needs of no less than 11 of the 18 amino acids.
Before I dive into the whole soufflé, let me address the white elephant, the yang, the other side of the coin, the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word ‘egg’: cholesterol. Eggs can’t be healthy cause they have lots of cholesterol, right? Well, so does breast milk, but that didn’t keep us from happily slurping from mom’s teat, did it?
Cholesterol is ok. It’s actually essential. Without it, we can’t build cell membranes; no new membranes, no life. It also puts us in a good mood. Studies have shown that people with low cholesterol (totals under 160 in men) tend to be pissed off and depressed. Apparently, cholesterol blocks re-uptake of that happy neurotransmitter serotonin. Just like prozac! So maybe if we chowed on cholesterol-laden foods we wouldn’t be popping so many pills.
But, I digress. (I’ll save cholesterol for another time. I don’t want to take away from the real topic here.)
Ok, so eggs have a stellar amino acid profile. We’re CrossFitters, we like protein, this is good.
Eggs also have loads of minerals that are good for your brain, like lecithin. Lecithin, found in the yolk, helps digest fat and is the source for choline. Choline is a key component of fat-containing structures in cell membranes, and a damned high percentage of our brain’s total mass comes from fat molecules. Guess what? Eggs contain the highest source of choline.
Lutein, a fabulous carotenoid found in the yolk, helps prevent macular degeneration. You can find lutein in other foods, like spinach, but it’s easier to absorb from eggs.
You’ll also find a bunch of antioxidants like riboflavin, B12, biotin, and glutathione, all of which help to mitigate the cellular damage of life. Since we like to beat up our bodies with heavy cleans and 100-day burpee challenges, we’ve got a bit more cellular damage going on than your average Suzy. It’s important for us to pay attention to that stuff, so we can be warriors like Jacinto.
A quick note on that whole cholesterol thing: I do want to add that oxidized cholesterol is bad. It’s damaged and produces inflammation in the body. How you prepare your egg determines whether you’ve allowed the cholesterol to oxidize. Generally, you want to eat unbroken yolks – hard/soft boiled, poached or fried are superior to scrambled and omelets. Doesn’t mean you can’t have the latter, just eat them less frequently.
Eat the whole egg
You might have noticed that the couple of nutrients I mentioned above are found in the yolk. In fact, most of the good shit is in the yolk. Sure, the white gives you some protein, minerals and is a killer binding agent in cooking, but one of its main purposes is to protect that gorgeous yolk. We’ve ditched the yolk in recent years cause we’re scared of cholesterol, but that’s clearly not a legit argument. We’re also anti-yolk cause it’s got fat. Well most of those essential vitamins and minerals in eggs are fat soluble, meaning your body can’t use them unless there’s fat involved. That’s why, for example, lutein is more easily absorbed from yolks rather than spinach.
Which came first…?
I must interrupt myself for a minute to tell you something extremely important. Not all eggs are created equal. The goodness of your egg depends on the life of the chicken that laid it. See, most industrial laying chickens are crammed into dirty, smelly cages inside dirty, smelly warehouses. In fact, they’ve so little room to exist, they usually have their beaks trimmed so that they don’t peck each other in the ass. They’re fed a diet of supplements with maybe some ground up meat, pig and, yes, chicken thrown in there.
People have gotten wise to the industrial egg business and have started buying eggs labeled organic, vegetarian feed and pastured. This is good, but let me break those labels down for you, cause they’re not the same and some are better than others.
-Organic means the chickens are not pumped not full of antibiotics and other wacky, unnatural shit. Generally the way they’re raised is a bit more humane too.
-Vegetarian feed means the chickens didn’t get forced into cannibalism. It also means they probably did not get out in the sun very much.
-Pastured means the chickens were raised hanging out on the land; fencing is probably minimal and their food is mostly grass, grubs, worms with some supplementation of chicken scratch (i.e. human-made food).
Which do you think sounds best? You’re all pretty smart, so I’m guessing you went with pastured. Ding ding ding.
Why, exactly, is pastured better? Well all those nutrients found in eggs are MUCH higher in eggs from pastured chickens. See, chickens are omnivores. They’re meant to eat insects and grasses, which contain all those vitamins and minerals, not to mention omega-3 fatty acid. The ratio of omega-3 fatty acid (good) to omega-6 fatty acid (bad in large quantities) is pretty much ideal in pastured eggs; it can be up to 20 times out of balance in industrial eggs. Check out this fascinating comparison of the nutrient profile for pastured eggs vs. industrial eggs
Here’s a test:
Which egg is industrial, organic and pastured?
Yep, that one with the gorgeous dark yellow yolk is pastured. You can literally see its nutritional value. All those carotenoids ready to fight for your health. And the one in the middle? That’s the industry standard. Finally, we’ve got organic on the right.
Taste is everything
Health is good, but food is just as much about experiencing deliciousness. There is nothing quite like a perfectly prepared, pastured egg. It’s not smelly, the texture is silky and creamy, the taste is rich and deep.
Final thoughts and tips
This is by no means an exhaustive post on the wonderfulness of eggs. There’s plenty more to know, but you’ve probably already had to scroll down so much that it’d just irritate you if I wrote more. So let me just finish with these quick notes: eggs keep a long time, maybe a month, especially if you get them fresh from the farm. Older eggs are easier to peel and older egg whites are easier to whip into meringue.
Go to the farmers market for your eggs. Ask the farmer how they raise their chickens. More than likely the farmers who sell eggs on the side are raising them best, as opposed to farmers in the egg business; larger volume generally affects quality.
My favorite way to boil an egg:
Place one or two eggs in a fairly small saucepan. Cover them with cold water and add a pinch of salt. The salt helps keep the egg white from leaking out in case you’ve got a little crack in your egg.
Place your pan on the burner and turn the heat up high. Bring water to boil.
Once the water has boiled, turn off the heat and cover your pot. Set your timer for 9 minutes* and check your email.
When your timer goes off, grab a spoon, lift your eggs out of the hot water and slip them into cold water for 2 or 3 minutes.
Once they’ve cooled to warm or room temp, crack the egg on the round end and peel the shell. You should have a firm, not hard, egg white containing a fluffy, creamy, dry egg yolk. Get fancy by sprinkling on a little paprika or dill, be simple with salt and pepper, or chop into a salad.
*9 minutes is a general guide. With pastured eggs, you’ll have some little, titchy eggs and some so big you feel pain for the chicken that laid it. Adjust your time up or down accordingly.
Where I learned about this stuff:
"Protein Power Lifeplan" by Michael Eades
"Real Food" by Nina Planck
Meet Real Free Range Eggs Mother Earth News