Eating or, perhaps more accurately, drinking raw eggs, began as a health fad around the turn of the 20th century. The fitness guru Bernarr Macfadden recommended a diet of raw eggs, whole grains, and fruits as early as the 1890s. But the supposed benefits of raw eggs only really gained traction in the early 1920s, when Charles Atlas, the world-famous bodybuilder and creator of Dynamic Tension, began including them in the popular training plan’s nutrition pages.
Since then, raw eggs have become a popular culture cliché. The idea of bodybuilding is as likely to trigger the image of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky downing a glass of raw egg protein as it is the concept of lifting an enormous barbell over one’s head.
But one question always hangs over it: Given the salmonella risk, is it safe to eat raw eggs?
Eating raw eggs
You may not have given it much thought but, with the exception of vegans and the more nutritionally conscious among us, most people consume raw eggs quite regularly. Several common foods include raw eggs as a common ingredient, including mayonnaise, hollandaise, ice cream, and salad dressings, such as Caesar salad dressing.
These products are safe in their store-bought versions because the eggs are pasteurised first. But let’s face it, nothing tastes quite like homemade. Fortunately, it is possible to pasteurise your eggs at home.
How to pasteurise eggs
The trick is to add an acid, like lemon juice of white wine vinegar to your eggs. This will allow the eggs to be heated up to the pasteurisation temperature (140°F or 60°C), thus killing the harmful salmonella bacteria. You will need 1 tablespoon of acid and 2 tablespoons of water for every 2 eggs. It is also important that you have 3 clean whisks handy. If not, 3 clean forks will do.
In a microwave-safe glass bowl, simply whisk the raw eggs (remember to separate first if needed) with a clean whisk before adding the lemon juice or vinegar and whisking again. Then add the water and whisk again. Seal the bowl and microwave it on high until you see the eggs start to rise, then an additional 8 seconds.
Immediately remove the bowl and uncover it. With a second clean whisk, whisk it again, and microwave it once more on high for 8 seconds. Remove the bowl and whisk with your third clean whisk until creamy (for yolks) or airy (for whites). The eggs are now safe to use.
Drinking raw eggs
It’s that early morning glass of raw eggs that many bodybuilders and athletes swear by. But for the rest of us, it more often makes our stomachs churn.
Of course, you can always make them more palatable, for instance, by mixing them into a milkshake or smoothie. Arnold Schwarzenegger takes his morning eggs with cream. But even just whisking them smooth makes them go down better.
Cocktail fans will know that raw eggs – or at least egg whites – are also a staple bar ingredient. They’re part of the classic whiskey sour and gin fizz, among other popular cocktails. You may even drink them more often than you realise, every Christmas, for example, in your homemade eggnog. Again, you should always pasteurise the eggs first.
What do experts say about it
The reasoning behind eating raw eggs is that eggs are a better protein source than cooked ones. Not only is there little evidence to back this up, the science suggests that cooked eggs are, if anything, better for you. And not just because they’re less likely to make you ill.
You see, eggs contain a vitamin called biotin that’s important for the health of your hair, nails and nervous system. However, the absorption of biotin is blocked by another protein in raw eggs called avidin, which is actually broken down during the cooking process.
And breaking down the avidin doesn’t necessarily mean that cooked eggs are a less viable protein source. In fact, a study in The Journal of Nutrition suggests that the body only absorbs an average of 51% of the proteins in raw eggs compared to 91% in cooked eggs. It is not just about how much protein is in the eggs, but how readily our body can absorb it.
So there’s no real reason to eat raw eggs unless a particular recipe is impossible without them. In that situation, the general consensus is that it’s best to pasteurise them first. However, where you source your eggs from will also make a big difference. Eggs from caged hens are far more likely to contain salmonella than hens that have been allowed to pasture.
Recipes with raw eggs
This article wouldn’t be complete without a few recipe recommendations. After all, raw eggs are almost essential to fine dining, and any home chef would be better off learning how to use them. Just remember to pasteurise them first, of course.
You can’t go wrong with Jamie Oliver’s homemade mayonnaise recipe. This one gets a kick from Dijon mustard but, as with all homemade mayonnaise, the trick is to keep the faith. For the uninitiated, the temptation to stop adding oil as the mayonnaise dilutes is hard to resist, but with time, the oil will become thick and light.
Raw meat topped with a raw egg yolk? This classic French dish strikes fear into the hearts of squeamish eaters, but it really shouldn’t. Just be sure to prepare it properly and, as Nigella Lawson’s steak tartare recipe advises, use the best quality ingredients available to you.
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