Dear readers, try as we might, we cannot ignore the fact that winter is upon us. I, for one, am doing my part to keep the cold at bay by continuing to wear my Adidas Sambas in the snow, though a few consecutive days of wet socks may be breaking down my resolve. With the arrival of winter comes, too, an awful consequence: the farmer’s market wares are seriously dwindling. But thanks to a brilliant observation from Pete, my sister’s father-in-law, the Sprout Diaries can chug on through these bitter, frozen months! For we must not forget that the incredible and entirely edible egg is available year round from your local Michigan farmers.
Not that the egg should be considered any kind of last resort. Au contraire! People groups all over the world have revered the egg for millennia as a symbol of fertility, birth, and renewal. Besides its enormous significance as a cultural and religious symbol, eggs have also fed mankind since time immemorial. Some sources date egg consumption as far back as the Neolithic age. Read on for some eggtraordinary facts on eggy issues such as health benefits, the importance of a hen’s ear lobes, and the invention of the egg carton.
the food that packs one shell of a punch
Long story short, there a lot of good reasons to eat eggs. For one, the egg–like any animal product–provides all the essential amino acids we humans require. And you probably know that in addition to containing these life-sustaining amino acids, eggs are lauded as high-protein, low-caloric wonder foods, with a single egg delivering 6.3 grams of protein and only 68 calories.
You might know (I sure didn’t) that eggs are also remarkable for their high choline content. Choline–not ever to be confused with chlorine–is a vital component of cell membranes, as well as of acetycholine, a neurotransmitter responsible for carrying messages to and from nerves. If that weren’t enough, choline has also been found to reduce inflammation, a huge risk factor for the development of heart disease. But here’s the bad news: more than 90% of Americans are choline deficient. Choline intake is even more important for pregnant women, for whom choline plays a major role in the fetus’s brain and memory development.
One more bonus of eating omelets and souffles: eggs contain lutein, a carotenoid thought to help prevent macular degeneration and cataracts. Some studies suggest that eggs might even have higher amounts of lutein then spinach, the food that has previously been considered the nutrient’s major dietary source. Try eating eggs and spinach together–such as featured in an upcoming veggie benedict recipe–and you give yourself a double dosage of eye love.
But hold on, there’s a catch. I saw you considering the egg whites only option on that breakfast menu. Nutrients like choline and lutein are found in the yolks of eggs, making it very important to consume eggs as they were intended: as whole foods. Before you can protest with “But my cholesterol!”, know that nutritionists now say that moderate consumption of eggs, i.e. one or two per day, does not increase heart disease risk in healthy individuals.
a good egg
Let’s talk about being wise consumers of eggs. An egg carton bought from the grocery store will mark its product with a certain grade (either AA, A, or, rarely, B). This grade is bestowed based on the size of the air cell trapped within the egg. When the egg’s contents cool and contract after being laid, an air cell forms at the larger end. The smaller the air cell, the fresher the egg, and the higher the grade given. Conversely, the larger the air cell, the older egg. This is why a very old–or rotten–egg will float in water and should not be eaten.
Interestingly, in Australia and the European Union, egg grades take into account the farming method used, such as whether the hens were free range or battery caged. In the US, these factors are not considered.
An age-old question in the egg-eating world is the preference for brown versus white shells. Contrary to popular belief, the color of the shell has zero affect on the egg’s nutritional value. The explanation for the color difference sounds so simple, I hesitate to even point it out. The truth is, white hens lay white eggs and brown hens lay brown eggs. If the hen’s feathers are an ambiguous shade of whitish brown, there’s an easy way to make a prediction: check out the hen’s ear lobes. I have to admit, I had never given even an ounce of thought to a chicken’s ear lobes before learning this. Have you?
a couple more tidbits
To wrap up this rather lengthy egg tutorial, I’ll share with you two fun facts that should make great fodder for conversation at your next dinner party (that is, if you party with eggheads). First, the idiom “to egg someone on” has absolutely no connection to or association with your breakfast. I know, I was disappointed at first, too, but the real etymology (eggymology?) is even more interesting. The verb “to egg” is derived from the Old Norse eddja, meaning “to edge” or “to urge forward.” This phrase, which sounds fairly modern to my ears, has in fact been in circulation among English speakers since the 13th century.
And finally, a word about the invention of the egg carton . In 1911, a newspaper editor living in British Columbia named Joseph Coyle put his creativity toward resolving a petty dispute. For some time, a farmer and a hotel manager had been arguing over the recurring issue of eggs delivered broken to the hotel. Coyle stepped in with his innovative packaging design, and the Coyle Egg-Safety Carton–an enduring symbol of conflict resolution–was born. Thanks, Joseph!