What is an egg?
Packing a punch, the humble egg is a powerhouse of nutritional goodness. An excellent protein source, you can simply boil an egg or crack it into a frying pan. Savoury quiches and frittata, creamy custards and white-peaked meringues are all made possible by this versatile food.
Archaeological evidence shows that eggs were consumed in the New Stone Age (beginning about 10,000 BC). Jungle fowl native to tropical and subtropical Southeast Asia and India were domesticated for their eggs before 7500 BC.
Chickens were taken to Egypt around 1500 BC and arrived in Greece around 800 BC. The Romans found egg-laying chickens in England and Christopher Columbus transported the first domesticated fowl to North America in 1493.
The most commonly used eggs are those from chickens, although some people eat duck eggs and smaller eggs, such as those from quails. Occasionally, eggs from ostriches are used as a gourmet ingredient.
The colour of eggs varies according to the species and breed of the chicken. They can be white, brown, pink – even a speckled blue-green. Generally, white-feathered chickens with white ear lobes lay white eggs and brown-feathered chickens with red ear lobes lay brown eggs (this may not apply to all breeds). There is no difference in the nutritional value between these eggs.
Why eggs are good to eat
- Eggs are highly nutritious and a good source of protein, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, folic acid and iron.
- Egg yolks contain choline, an important nutrient that is required for brain development.
- Eggs are one of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D. All of the vitamin A, D, and E in an egg is contained in the yolk.
- A large yolk contains more than two-thirds of the recommended daily intake of 300 mg of cholesterol.
- Energy – a large 60 g egg provides around 300 kJ (the egg yolk contains approximately 250 kJ and the egg white about 60 kJ).
How are they farmed?
Most of the eggs we consume come from farms, although some people keep chickens in their backyards and collect the eggs.
In Victoria, egg-laying chickens are either kept in cages, allowed to free-range (they can move around in both indoor and outdoor spaces) or are kept inside barns where they are free to move.
The diet of the egg-laying chicken affects the nutrition content of the eggs. For example, feeding a chicken a special diet that includes large quantities of flaxseed results in eggs that are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Chickens that are fed lots of corn tend to produce eggs with yellower yolks.
The type of eggs you choose depends on your individual needs. For health reasons, some people choose eggs enriched in omega-3 while others are mainly concerned about the way chickens are raised and only buy free-range eggs. There are many different types of eggs available at your local supermarket.
When choosing eggs, you should only buy clean, uncracked eggs that are within their ‘best before’ date. Taking these precautions helps to reduce your risk of becoming ill from bacteria that might be on or in the eggs.
How to store and keep eggs
Eggshells are porous, so when eggs are stored in the fridge they can take on the smell of other foods. It is best to keep them in their own carton to prevent this from happening. For optimum quality, use your eggs by their ‘best before’ date.
Some eggs may contain bacteria that may cause illness (such as vomiting and diarrhoea). To avoid this, make sure you cook eggs well. Try to avoid foods (for example, some smoothies used by bodybuilders) that contain raw eggs.
How to use
- Boil, scramble, fry or poach (simmer in water) eggs for a quick nutritious snack.
- Eggs are versatile and can be used in many sweet or savoury dishes – eggs baked with chorizo in a spicy harissa-laced tomato sauce will add an exotic twist to breakfast or lunch.
- For a special breakfast treat, try corn fritters draped with slices of smoked salmon, topped with poached eggs and a dollop of crème fraîche.
- Kids will love toy soldiers (toasted bread cut into thin strips) and eggs – dunk the soldiers in the soft-boiled, runny yolk.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Better Health Channel
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