Why? Oh Why Don’t the French Wash
or Refrigerate Thier Eggs?
by Dallas Doctor
OF COURSE, you’d expect some-of-the-little-things to feel weird at first, but when I first moved to Paris, one of the totally unexpected (and delightful) surprises I noticed in the first few months was how different the eggs are.
I noticed right away that I enjoyed them more over here.
Initially, I figured it was just my imagination. I thought maybe I was letting the different color of the shell, or my picturesque surroundings, affect my taste buds more than was warranted.
… but then I began to notice other differences as well…
Back in the good ol’ US of A, you absolutely must open every egg-carton before you put it in your cart to check for broken shells. You often need to open two or three cartons before you’ll find an entire dozen of unbroken, unblemished eggs all in the same carton. (For me, it was extremely rare that I’d get a full carton on the first try.)
But in France, that just doesn’t happen — EVER! I have never once encountered a broken egg in a carton — not a single one — and I consume eggs at exactly the same rate here (3-per-day) as I did back in the States.
At first I thought I was just lucky, or that maybe it was coincidence, or that my sample size was too small…
But as time went on and week after week went by and still no broken eggs, … I began to wonder…
… So I finally decided do a little research, because it was beginning to bother me!
It turns out that it’s all about salmonella!
What? It’s true! There are two different approaches to defend against salmonella on the two sides of the Atlantic. Both strategies came about after world-wide salmonella outbreaks in the 1970s.
What the heck is salmonella, anyway?
Salmonella is a group of bacteria — tiny prokaryotic
microorganisms (also called germs). Salmonella is one of the main causes of what is usually referred to as “food poisoning.” It’s more common in summer than in winter, and it’s more-often found in children or older adults, or others who’s immune systems are at risk. Beef, poultry, milk, and eggs are most often infected with salmonella. But vegetables can also be contaminated. (The Bad News: Contaminated foods usually look and smell normal.)
In the US:
In order to combat salmonella, the USDA mandated that eggs be washed with soap and water before they leave the farm. This washing process however, destroys the waxy cuticle that naturally surrounds the egg. This very thin layer (also called “Bloom“) seals and protects the egg. The eggshell itself is incredibly porous. An eggshell is covered with as many as 17,000 tiny pores. Eggshell is made almost entirely of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) crystals. So the shell is a semipermeable membrane (which means that gasses and moisture and yes, even bacteria, can pass through its pores). The cuticle is like a safety vest. In other words, the cuticle functions as a protective barrier to keep moisture in and pathogens out. But by washing the egg, the protective cuticle is removed, so the egg must be refrigerated at every step — from farm to store to table — in order to discourage bacterial growth.
In the EU:
Europe took an entirely different approach, electing to leave the cuticle intact to protect the egg — which means “No Washing.” Instead, many (most) EU countries since the 70s have mandated that chickens be vaccinated against salmonella. This method makes refrigeration unnecessary since the egg’s natural protections are still in place.
So what happened?
Salmonella cases are down on both sides of the Atlantic
Occasional outbreaks of salmonella infections still occur — though rarely — in both populations, and practices differ widely (especially between EU countries), so it is impossible to do a head-to-head comparison. But salmonella infections are declining under both “washing” and “not-washing” strategies.
It should be noted however, that in the UK, which in 2010 enacted much stronger “not-washing” legislation, which not only mandated vaccination, but effectively made it illegal to wash eggs, the salmonella rates have plummeted.
So does this ALSO explain fewer broken eggs in France?
Yes! The cuticle functions as a protective covering that not only protects the inside of the egg, but also helps to hold the shell together. That is precisely why the rate of broken eggs is so markedly different in countries that don’t rob the egg of its protective coating.
But what about flavor?
One of the unintended consequences of removing the cuticle (washing) is that unprotected eggs become far more porous than they otherwise would be. This is not a desirable quality if you like the taste of eggs. The cuticle keeps the good stuff (moisture) in, and the bad stuff (pathogens) out. Not only can bacteria infiltrate a washed shell, but all sorts of odors can be absorbed as well. HINT: Don’t store your refrigerated eggs in the same compartment as your garlic (unless of course you like garlic-flavored eggs).
So are EU eggs better?
In a word: Yes!
(BTW: If you’re worried about salmonella, the best practice would be to purchase unwashed eggs and wash them yourself just prior to consumption.)
BONUS IF YOU’VE READ THE FAR:
THE WORLD’S BEST EGG RECIPE:
You may not know this about me, but I’m a bit of an eggspert (sorry ’bout that). Trust Me: If you ever get a chance to have me make you breakfast — go for it — you’ll be glad you did!
Here’s My Secret Recipe! (Don’t tell anybody!):
- Throw a big chunk of butter (yes, real butter), into a pan with some oil (to keep it form burning);
- Just as the butter starts to caramelize, throw in your chopped veggies (I use a clove of fresh garlic, two large scallions (including the stems); a quarter yellow onion, a quarter red pepper, and a quarter yellow pepper;
- Season the vegetables with black pepper and plenty of tarragon while you sauté them until the vegetables also beginning to caramelize;
- While that’s happening break three unwashed, room-temperature eggs into a mixing bowl, add about a cup of heavy whipping cream, with more pepper and more tarragon (don’t be timid with the tarragon).
- Hot sauce is optional, but with or without it, beat the cream and eggs mixture until your arm is about to fall off (That’s the secret to fluffy).
- Pour the egg/cream mixture (which should look like Béarnaise sauce at this point) right in on top of the buttery vegetables;
- NOW FOR THE HARD PART: WAIT!!!
(Give your creation a few minutes to set up and rise and get good and fluffy! DON”T WORRY IF GETS A LITTLE CRUSTY IN THE PAN!)
- Just before it starts to burn, turn your eggs in the pan ONE (1) time and sprinkle an entire large handful of shredded cheese on top and COVER with a lid to capture all the moist, yummy goodness as the cheese melts;
- After a minute or so, peek under the lid to confirm the cheese is melting;
- Spatula that baby out of the pan and fold your creation over on top of itself, so that all the cheesy goodness is on the inside and a nice healthy brown crust covers the outside.
- Ketchup is optional;
(Now you too, can be an eggspert! You’re welcome!)
P.S. I’d love to hear what you think. Please leave a reply. As long as it’s not spam or trolling, I’ll happily post it here for all to enjoy! Thank you!
P.P.S. ALSO Here’s MY GoScienceGo Promise: If you EVER think I get something wrong — and if you can provide actual evidence — (not anecdote, but verifiable EVIDENCE) — of such a thing, PLEASE let me know. If your argument is valid, I’ll be thrilled to change my ways and acknowledge my error (because that’s the only honest way to be); all you have to do is give me a good reason…