BY KRITA COELHO
What makes a good egg? Apart from opening the carton to make sure none are cracked, uneven or look soiled, all you have is the information outside to depend on when buying eggs. We all wish egg labelling was just about medium, large, extra-large, and jumbo, but no! There are so many things to consider, especially when egg box vocabulary seems to grow by the day.
To make this essential food easy to buy, we need to know how to navigate the egg section of the grocery store, decode egg labels or descriptions, and how to treat your eggs when you bring them home.
Here we shed light on shopping for the freshest eggs.
Ignore the colour
When you land at the grocery, do you reach for white or brown eggs? Most of us reckless souls inevitably pick whichever eggs are available, or we just buy the colour we’ve always bought. Or maybe you’ve been told that brown eggs are better for you.
When it comes to taste and nutrition, there is no difference between white and brown eggs, except for, well, the breed of the hen. In general, chickens with white earlobes lay white eggs, and chickens with red earlobes lay brown eggs. If at all you find a difference in taste, it’s generally due to the hen’s diet.
Now are you wondering why brown eggs are often more expensive? Brown eggs tend to have a higher price tag simply because the reddish-feathered chickens that lay brown eggs are larger than the breed that lays white eggs, and as such, they require more feed. It’s not because they are more natural or healthier!
Look at the dates
How can you tell if the eggs are fresh? Simply look at the carton properly for the dates.
Check for the production date printed on eggs, which is the day they were laid inspected, cleaned, and placed in the carton. You can store the eggs in the refrigerator for four to five weeks beyond this date. Then there’s an expiration date. It must be no more than 45 days from the day the eggs were packed into the carton.
Point to note: The flavour of the eggs isn’t really affected by freshness, but the texture of the whites and yolks do get thinner with age. As a result, older eggs tend to spread out more in the frying pan and are more difficult to poach. On the upside, they make perfect hard-boiled eggs that are easy to peel.
Check the grade
Don’t get hassled over egg grades, it’s very simple. Eggs are generally grouped into three grades — A, AA, and B — based on the quality of the whites, yolks and shells.
Grade AA eggs are considered the highest-quality eggs, with thick, firm whites, round, defect-free yolks, and clean and presentable shells. They are ideal for poaching, frying and using in any dish in which appearance is important.
Grade A eggs are the second-highest quality of eggs and the type most commonly sold in grocery stores. The yolk of a grade A egg must meet the same standards as a grade AA, standing up high and free from defects but the only difference is that they have slightly thinner whites. They are suitable for any general baking or cooking need.
Grade B have whites that may be thinner and yolks that may be wider and flatter than eggs of higher grades. The shells must be unbroken, but may show slight stains or uneven shapes. They are rarely sold in stores and are commonly used for commercial liquid and powdered egg products. Grade B eggs are best used in baked goods, rather than fried, scrambled or poached eggs.
Size them up
Normally size doesn’t matter in eggs, unless you’re baking. Size classifications do not refer to how big an egg appears, but to the total weight of a dozen eggs. As there is always a variation between individual eggs, weighing by the dozen averages out these small differences.
When it comes to baking, most recipes are based on large eggs (60g). If you’ve already bought a different size, here’s some conversion information that may be helpful:
1 medium egg = 3 tablespoons (44ml)
1 large egg = 3 1/2 tablespoons (51ml)
1 extra large egg = 4 tablespoons (59ml)
1 jumbo egg = 4 1/4 tablespoons (just over 60ml)
Examine for cracks
Once you’ve selected your carton, open it up. It’s an obvious but wise move. You want eggs with clean shells and not any cracks.
Cracks in the shells of eggs can allow bacteria or other pathogens to contaminate the egg and make you sick. While cooking does reduce the amount of most contaminants, it does not remove them completely. Examine eggs before buying them to make sure you and your family aren’t exposed to food-borne illnesses because of cracked egg shells.
Sometimes, opening a carton of eggs and visually inspecting every egg for cracks can get you some unnerving stares. Other shoppers may not appreciate you picking through every egg before buying. Just open and give it a quick look or flip to the back of the carton to see if there’s any spill. If you still happen to arrive home with eggs that are cracked, discard them.
No bad eggs here
When you get home, store eggs in their original carton on a shelf in the refrigerator, not in the egg tray inside the door.
Cold air escapes every time you open the door and that’s not good. Also cartons reduce water loss and protect flavours from other foods being absorbed into the eggs. Fresh eggs can be kept refrigerated in their carton for up to six weeks. Remember there is a use by date displayed on the carton.
The float test may be one of the quick, fun and most reliable methods of testing if your eggs are fresh or not. Put the eggs in a container filled with warm water; fresh eggs will stay at the bottom, while the older ones float because of the large air cell that forms in its base. Even if it floats, it can be used, but double-check once opened if it is foul-smelling or discoloured. If it is, discard the egg.
The egg factor
Here are some fun facts about eggs you perhaps didn’t know…
Flawless skin: If you need an inexpensive beauty treatment, you’ll find it right in your kitchen. Egg whites have long been used as a homemade facial because it is rich in proteins and albumin that exhibits skin toning properties, and also promotes wrinkle-free skin. Egg whites can also draw oil from the pores while tightening the skin. Don’t use it you’re allergic to egg!
Crack-free: Prior to the invention of the egg carton, they were delivered in a basket. In 1911, British Columbian newspaper editor Joseph Coyle invented the egg box out of paper. This invention was the result of a dispute between a farmer and hotel owner over the delivery of broken eggs. Egg cartons were made by hand until 1919, when he designed a machine to make the egg boxes. In the 1950s, H.G. Bennett improved upon the egg carton.
Whole food: Eggs are one of the most complete foods on earth, containing every single essential vitamin (except for C) and all the amino acids. A large egg contains 77 calories, with 6 grams of quality protein, 5 grams of fat and trace amounts of carbohydrates. It’s very important to realise that almost all the nutrients are contained in the yolk - the white contains only protein.
Very versatile: The hundred folds in a chef’s toque (that tall, pleated hat) represent the hundred ways to cook an egg. This just goes to prove that eggs are one of the most versatile ingredients in your kitchen. The term toque comes from an Arabic word that simply means hat. In the 1800s the French began using the phrase toque blanche to refer to the white hat worn by chefs as part of their uniform.
Omelette truth: The ancient Romans are credited to have made the first omelette. This is because they paired an egg with sweetened honey and called it ovemele (eggs and honey), which is rather close to the modern term omelette. Some believe that the name may also come from the French word, allumelette meaning blade, which describes the long, flat shape of an omelette.