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Food mythbusters: do you really need milk for scrambled eggs?

Food mythbusters: do you really need milk for scrambled eggs?

Almost every recipe for scrambled eggs includes milk in the ingredients. But, indeed, science tells us that milk could spoil it all. Do you know why?

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If you search for a recipe for scrambled eggs online, there is a very good chance you will encounter the same instructions and ingredients. One such ingredient is good quality milk. A little, a lot, half a glass, one glass, fresh, partially skimmed or non-skimmed: there really is a huge variety of indications concerning milk in this apparently simple recipe. For this same reason, it is difficult to ascertain whether milk is actually an essential ingredient for making your scrambled eggs or, conversely, it risks ruining the end result.

However, when faced with the scientific facts all doubts vanish and culinary myths are debunked. So it is with milk in scrambled eggs: the answer is no, that damned glass (or half glass) of milk, whatever its nature, is best left out of your dish. In fact, milk could spoil it all together.

How much fat in a scrambled egg?

That comes as a surprise, doesn’t it? To understand the reason for this revelation, first of all, it must be remembered that scrambled eggs owe their name to the fact that they depend on yolks and egg white being mixed together. The resulting mixture, however, is one that defies nature because it attempts to unite two elements which have nothing to do with each other: egg white and yolk. 

Egg white, which accounts for about 65% of the egg volume, is mainly made up of proteins (11%) and water (88%). Instead, egg yolk is a fatty substance made up of lipids in a percentage of approximately 34% and 50% water. It will now be clear to you that “scrambling” these two elements forces them to stay together, but it is the action of heat which makes this arranged marriage a more stable one. How? By gradually eliminating water.

Heat transforms the liquid into steam and the proteins gradually start to transform thanks to a process called “denaturation”: that's why they change shape to become a dense network of filaments trying to retain some water molecules. Obviously, the more heat is supplied, the more water will be eliminated. This is the reason why excessively cooked scrambled eggs turn into a dry, lumpy and unattractive mess that is also unpleasant to eat. Luckily, the fatty content of the yolk, which “coats” the proteins and slows down this process, ensures a perfect degree of creaminess. Unless, of course, too much heat is applied.

How to make scrambled eggs without milk

At this point, the addition of milk may sound like an excellent idea, because it would add a fair amount of water and a certain percentage of fat to our beloved scrambled eggs. But it is here that the problem lies: even top quality milk has a percentage of water that is never less than 85-87%, while its fat content never exceeds 4-5%. In other words, it adds A LOT OF water and NOT MUCH fat. As a result, in terms of physics, the increased amount of water could prolong the cooking time considerably. Furthermore, the proteins when cooked for too long would tend to make our dish fibrous and unpalatable. On the other hand, the added fat is not sufficient to maintain the perfect balance which makes scrambled eggs so delicious. 

To give the final blow to the legendary glass of milk, here comes the simple consideration that, when added to scrambled eggs, it waters down the flavour and colour of the dish considerably. I don’t need to tell you, at this point, that if you really wish to improve your scrambled eggs, you should add the best part of the milk: fat. So, go ahead and use a bit of butter, better still if clarified or taken straight from the fridge (and even the freezer), so that it melts slowly, helping those delicious proteins to trap a few water molecules and keep your eggs soft and creamy.

 

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