The most basic of foods, a high quality protein, no labels to read, gluten-free, economical, pure and uncomplicated. The simple egg. Many different species lay eggs for reproduction, but when we think of eggs, we think birds and specifically chickens. The first consumable eggs came from fowl, eaten long before recorded history, among many different cultures. They were easily gathered wherever birds made their nests. Eventually the chicken was domesticated from native fowl in Southeast Asia and India, probably before 7500 BCE.
In the country of India, wild fowl were domesticated around 3200 B.C. followed by the Egyptians and Chinese who began to see the value of having fresh eggs available daily. Europe was a bit slower, with history indicating that hens showed up around 600 B.C. (Probably in France. They wanted to start making those popular omelets and mayonnaise.) Prior to chickens, wild quail eggs were frequently eaten, if one was lucky enough to find them in the woods. These days, quail eggs are considered a delicacy and not considered a part of most countries’ daily cuisine. Still, Asians in particular enjoy eggs from other fowl, but Americans tend to stick with chicken eggs. By the way, there is no difference between white and brown eggs, they just come from a different variety of hens. (Not surprisingly, the French will not buy white eggs.They consider them inferior.) Egg yolk color varies according to the hens’ diets. It is common to feed laying hens corn and marigold flowers to produce a golden yellow color. (Would I make that up?)
When Christopher Columbus set sail to discover a New World, there are indications that he had egg-laying fowl on board. And you can be sure chickens were running around on deck when the Mayflower landed in Massachusetts in 1620. Colonists used eggs as a primary ingredient in their cooking and baking, and eggs could be gathered daily year ’round for much-needed food.
In the late 1800s, dried eggs began to appear as a convenient substitute and increased greatly during WWII to feed troops on the move. To prevent cracking during shipping, an industrious Canadian invented the egg carton in 1911.Surprisingly, China is the major exporter of chicken eggs, clocking in at 25 million tons (not eggs) annually. The U.S. is a distant second, producing nearly 6 million. U.S. consumption fell from 404 eggs per person a year in 1945, down to 220 in 1991. Now on the rise again, we are eating about 250 a year per person.
Decades ago, eggs got a bum rap for being a cholesterol hazard. Fuggedaboutit. There’s no cause for alarm. Forty years of testing concluded that consuming eggs has little or no impact on a person’s heart health, with saturated fat more likely the villain in raising serum cholesterol. If you’re still not convinced, opt instead for egg whites only, with a yolk tossed in for good measure. Egg white omelets can be very tasty, Add some chopped veggies, a little cheese, and you’ve got a nutritious, high protein meal.
When you think about it, the egg is truly amazing. Yolks comprise rich custards, puddings and mousse. Whipped whites create beautiful meringue and angel food cakes. They are a vital part of baking, breakfasts, sandwich fillings, salad dressings, and even whisked into Asian fried rice and soups. Their uses are endless, and they grace every nook and cranny of our cuisines. So thank you to that first chicken. Or was it that first egg?