Thursday, June 5, 2014

Euro Eggs Versus Ours

A Huffington Post article, "Why English Eggs Are Way Different From American Ones", by Alison Spiegel, has been passing around a bit today, and while I agree with much of her thesis, she gets the rest almost entirely wrong, because of one faulty assumption.
"English eggs look and taste very different from American ones. The yolks are more orange and they taste slightly richer. They also taste fresher and more flavorful than your average American factory farm egg. (We're not talking free range, organic eggs, but the kind that come from chickens stacked in tiny cages.)"

That's all correct (though I'd say the difference is more than "slight", and the editor who titled the piece apparently agrees), right up to the parenthetical. Most of us tenaciously hold on to an assumption that farm eggs taste better. It's become a truism, and is never questioned. But the issue is easily examined. And I have. Several times.

If you taste, side-by-side, a lousy convenience mart egg, an organic free-range Whole Foods egg, and a fresh-from-the-farm egg, having scrambled identically in the same pan with the same quantity of salt and oil (not butter, which makes things too distractingly delicious), you'll find that none of the eggs have any flavor at all. If you use butter, all three will taste like butter. The flavor of eggs in America is butter. And butter is good. That's why we love our eggs. Shoot, it even makes popcorn (one step up from styrofoam pellets) delicious!

American eggs have no flavor. Not convenience store eggs, not fancy Whole Foods eggs, and not eggs from rustic friends' pampered roosts (I've sampled at least ten different ones). You may or may not go so far as to judge them flavorlessness. You may detect some flavor (though I'd insist it's oil and salt). But, tasted blindly (using an actual blindfold to eliminate color cues) you will not correctly distinguish the eggs. Try it sometime. It's so easy that I'm surprised food lovers never do.

I first discovered this when a great Spanish chef visiting NYC offered to make me a tortilla (a big round potato omelet). I bought same-day organic eggs directly from a local farmer. But, as is the case with every tortilla I've ever had in America, it tasted like potatoes and oil. Because our eggs have no flavor. They can't stand up to other flavors. In Spain, tortilla is a sublime balance of egg and potato. I wish I was there right now.

Spiegel ascribes the difference to washing and storage. That's not it. I've snatched eggs from under chickens and cracked them warm. Never washed, never stored. And the flavor was a great big (sorry) goose egg.

There's no denying European eggs are more richly flavored. I'd take an ordinary Spanish, French or English egg over a great American one any day. And I'd love to know what the problem is. My guess is that it must be varietal.

5 comments:

Val in Seattle said...

I've tasted many of the local farmers' eggs. This is my unscientific opinion on what makes the best-tasting American egg:
1. Availability of insect prey. Bug diet makes eggs taste great. The best American eggs I ever tasted were from guinea hens. They eat the parasites that feed on chickens.
2. Don't feed corn to the chickens. It makes eggs bland.
3. Refrigeration diminishes flavor. The flavor will not return if you take them out of the fridge.
-- Val in Seattle
P.S. I didn't read the HuffPo. Sorry if there was any redundancy.

Jim Leff said...

Thanks, Val.

Bug diet was my theory for a long time. The other diff with Euro eggs is their deeper yellow yolk, which definitely comes from bugs, so I figured this one factor explained both diffs. However, I recently ate some deep yellow all-bug diet eggs....and.....no flavor.

Non-refrigeration makes a lot of sense, but diminishment of flavor assumes there was flavor to begin with, and I've never experienced flavor in American eggs (except when I was a kid, when even supermarket eggs had some flavor).

Your report of great American eggs coming from guinea hens supports my theory that it's a varietal issue. Guinea hens ain't the standard fowl!

If you ever feel you've found a genuinely good egg, try the blind test. But, again, make it literally blind so you can't spot color diffs!

Rajeev Joshi said...

I think you are right - perhaps it's the variety of chickens.

I get just-laid eggs from Iaconos farm in East Hampton - and they are tasteless compared to the eggs I get here in London. And English eggs aren't as great as the ones I get in Mumbai ... In fact, the only places I've ever had eggs outside India comparable in taste are in Italy and Mexico.

One test for you - the flavor of eggs seems to be in direct proportion to the eggy smell left by drinking a glass of water after eating eggs. It's barely noticeable in the US, but in India the glasses need very careful and thorough cleaning.

vhliv said...

Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I don't travel to Europe or elsewhere nearly as much as I used to and I it just never dawned on me that the reason the soft boiled eggs I periodically make as part of a German-style breakfast did not satisfy so much rested in the eggs rather than the deceit of memory.

Have you compared with Canadian eggs? As a kid when we travelled to Canada we always noted how much paler the eggs were there, but I do not recall us noticing diminished taste. Of course, as with so much else it is possible that Canadian eggs have been progressively more Americanized, although during my most recent rips north the eggs have still been distinctly paler.

Jim Leff said...

I don't remember Canadian eggs being very noteworthy either way!

----------
"rested in the eggs rather than the deceit of memory"
----------

Trillions of dollars are made in this world counting on that very same consumer hesitation. Our mistrust of our own memories allows, for instance, the logarithmic decline in NYC's pizza quality in the last 40 years. Note that there are just as many pizzerias now as there were then. Economists would scratch their heads at this, or assume there was a brief bubble where pizza was better than it NEEDED to be. But if pizza was this bad when pizza first appeared, it would never have caught on. We're all working off of memory extrapolation, and younger generations are swept along by that societal momentum.

Another example: Pepperidge Farm large crunchy cookies. Brilliant at first, but they ratchet down quality gradually enough that consumers assume it's just them.

I want to start a movement titled "It's NOT ME!" (hey, it's a lot better than "Change You Can Count On"!).

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