There’s something sublime in dipping a buttered soldier into the golden centre of a soft-boiled egg and watching the luscious lava erupt and spill over.
Eggs are everywhere in our food, from baked goods to even yogurts. They’re essential for much of our home baking, too, and make a great binder for anything with a crumbly texture. Packed with protein and nutrients, quick to cook and inexpensive, they’re a cheap, easy way to supplement a healthy diet.
But there are also some myths surrounding eggs which make some people wary. For instance, in 1988, then Health Minister Edwina Curry claimed that most British eggs were contaminated with salmonella – a claim later disproved. Unfortunately, this myth still persists. It was once also claimed that eggs were high in cholesterol and consumption should be regulated, yet we now know that the type of cholesterol contained in eggs is HDL (the good kind).
So British eggs are nutritious, and safe to eat. Awesome!
But what’s the best way to keep eggs fresh?
There’s an ongoing debate about this. People tend to fall into one of two camps: refrigerate or not.
In the US, the answer is simple. There are no regulations on vaccinating chickens, so eggs must be power-washed before sale, to remove any bacteria from their outer surface. This also removes the natural membrane which coats an egg, keeps it waterproof and prevents bacteria from being absorbed through the shell. Without this membrane, the storage of eggs in the US is a no-brainer. Refrigerate, unless the egg is to be used within two or three days.
In the UK, however, because our chickens are vaccinated, there’s no need for producers to wash off this natural membrane. The eggs have the protection nature intended, and can safely be stored on the counter for up to two weeks. Indeed, those who buy eggs from supermarkets might have noticed that eggs are displayed on shelves rather than in refrigerated units. However, according to the British Egg Information Service: ‘For optimum freshness and food safety, eggs should be kept at a constant temperature below 20 c. Most modern supermarkets are kept below 20 c so it is not necessary for retailers to store them in a fridge.’
There are advantages to not chilling eggs, though.
- Used in baking, a cold egg will not bind well with other ingredients and may cause ‘curdling’.
- It produces a fluffier crumb, leading to a better result.
- Meringues and other whipped egg recipies will have more volume.
- Eggs can absorb flavours from other foods stored in the fridge.
- Chilling eggs causes the albumin to thin, making for a runnier white.
- A basket of eggs sitting on your counter is… well, pretty.
Of course a great way to ensure your eggs are the freshest and tastiest they can possibly be is to buy locally from your farmers market. At Taunton Farmers Market, we have Ray of Ray’s Veg, who brings his free-range eggs every week, along with his freshly picked seasonal vegetables.
You can’t talk to an egg’s producer at the supermarket. In fact, the half dozen you buy there might come from six different producers from anywhere in the country. The Lion Brand mark might tell you when to consume by, but not how the hen is reared, or how long it took to get from farm to shop.
How else can you learn where your food comes from, how it’s handled and kept, and get great tips and recipes than by asking the people who produce it? Another no-brainer.