Anatomy of an Egg

We break down all the parts of a chicken egg from shell to yolk!

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One of the reasons that eggs are such an important ingredient is because their function varies greatly depending on how they are used. Then there is the anatomy of an egg. Depending on the application, only some parts of the egg are used. Let’s start by looking at the role of each part. 

SIZE MAY MATTER

Depending on the breed, diet, and age of the chicken, different sized eggs are laid. Usually the older the hen (female chicken) the larger the eggs are. Eggs are graded by their size and the average weight of a chicken egg is around two ounces. Overall, the size of the egg you buy doesn’t matter too much, except when it comes to baking. Baking requires precision, so using the wrong size egg can produce devastating results. To ensure success in baking (and cooking too, for that matter) one should measure ingredients by weight, including eggs. 

Eggs are graded by their size and the average weight of a chicken egg is around two ounces.

THE YOLK

The role of an egg yolk is fat. If a recipe calls for only the yolk, it requires the fat content. This gives baked goods a richer, creamier texture. The yolk also acts as a binding agent through the process of emulsification (liquids and fats merging together) which makes them especially useful for batters and custards like creme brûlée. Baking aside, egg yolks are also used to make pasta carbonara, traditional caesar salad dressing and they’re the classic topping on steak tartare. 

EGG WHITE

Egg white is the clear liquid within an egg and consists of about 90% water. Many dessert recipes, such as soufflé and meringue, call for whipped egg whites, which incorporates air bubbles within the white and creates a foam that makes a great leavening agent. When heated, the air trapped in the foam will expand. In the days before baking soda and baking powder, this is how many classic baked goods, like sponge cakes, got their lift. 

Whipping egg whites is a delicate process since over-whipped whites will becomes clumpy and grainy. Temperature also plays a part since room-temperature egg whites will whip up much easier than cold ones. Egg whites can also be whipped with sugar, which makes them more stable, and can be made into meringue and pavlova. The white is also used as a craft cocktail finishing in drinks like the Amaretto Sour and as a clarifying agent in wine making. 

Temperature also plays a part since room-temperature egg whites will whip up much easier than cold ones.

THE WHOLE EGG

By now you can likely surmise that using a whole egg in a recipe will provide you with both fat and foam. Whole eggs act as wonderful binding agents and are traditionally called for in many baked goods such as cookies, brownies, pancakes and more. Because they firm up when they are heated, they can also provide structural support for delicate pastries. That said, whole eggs can also impart a lightness to sweets like cakes and cookies. That’s because when they’re mixed with sugar, eggs help trap and hold air. 

To really maximize the magical properties of eggs, you can use yolks and whites separately in the same recipe. For example, when it comes to waffles, separating the egg and folding in a whipped white at the end will ensure you get a tender, fluffy waffle that browns well. Soufflés are another great example of this method. It should be mentioned that cold eggs will make separating the yolk from the white significantly easier, since they are less likely to break. 

To really maximize the magical properties of eggs, you can use yolks and whites separately in the same recipe.

THE COLOR SPECTRUM

When it comes to the majority of recipes, it’s best to use large chicken eggs. The two common colors of their shells are white and brown and there’s really not a huge difference between the two. Both have roughly the same nutritional content and are mild in taste. Home-raised chickens typically produce brown eggs and they might contain a more vibrant yolk and taste slightly richer but this is largely dependent on the feed that is given to the chicken, rather than the color of the shell. 

You may have seen eggs in other colors, some of which are very vibrant. These are eggs laid by less common breeds of chicken. For instance, Isobar is a Swedish chicken breed that lays beautiful green eggs and Araucana is a Chilean breed that lays gorgeous blue spheres. Then, there’s the Easter egger which is a hybrid breed that lays a range of gorgeous colors including green and pink!

We’ve merely scratched the surface when it comes to exploring this wondrous ingredient that is crucial to cooking and baking. The more you experiment with eggs in the kitchen, the more you’ll learn!