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Egg foams are one of the natural marvels of food chemistry. Fascinatingly, egg whites have been used to make foams since before the Renaissance (read: before the whisk was even invented)! Our ancestors used a variety of surprising techniques to foam egg whites, including wringing egg whites through sponges, slapping the surface with very stiff dried fruit slices, and using bundles of straw as a sort of predecessor to the modern whisk. Egg foams can be incorporated into a variety of dishes, such as meringues, cakes, soufflés, sauces, mousses, and cocktails. But wait, this is confusing. You may find yourself asking: Why would I want to use eggs that are a few weeks old?

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Does it matter what kind of bowl I use? Do I really need to use cream of tartar, or is salt an okay substitute? How will I know if I’ve overbeaten them, and what the heck is a stiff peak anyway? ? …whew! So many rules for something so simple! ! I ll break it down for you, so you can decide which “rules” you want to follow and which you want to throw out the window. But first a little science, so we can understand why there are rules at all. All foams are a type known as a, in which air is dispersed throughout a (usually) liquid phase without dissolving. The special proteins in egg whites are what allow stable foams to form. Proteins are large molecules, as molecules go. Because they’re so big, there are areas along their chain that are (water-loving) and areas that are (water-fearing). In nature, proteins fold themselves into a specific shape based on these characteristics. They keep their hydrophobic areas on the inside, where they are protected from exposure to water, and their hydrophilic areas on the outside. As I mentioned in my post, when proteins are denatured, they unfold into long, shapeless chains and try to bond with the other proteins around them. Once unfolded, the proteins’ hydrophobic and hydrophilic sides are exposed to the water-rich fluid around them. As you might imagine, this is no problem for the hydrophilic side of the chain, but the hydrophobic side will search for any escape…for instance, in an air bubble! So as your whisk denatures these proteins and simultaneously introduces air bubbles, the unfolded proteins congregate on the surface of each bubble, with their hydrophilic side remaining happily in the egg white liquid, while the hydrophobic side protrudes into the bubble to escape all that terrible water. Meanwhile, the proteins are forming bonds with each other around the surface of the bubble, thereby creating a strong and stable network of protein that keeps the air trapped and dispersed throughout the fluid egg. COOL!

Here are the top ten rules for making egg foam. Some I debunk, some I validate. Why. Warmer temperatures lower the surface tension of liquid egg whites, thereby making it easier for bubbles to form. Cold eggs are also easier to separate and run a lower risk of the yolk breaking and leaching destructive fat into your egg whites (see number 8 below). Is it for real? The proof. Can you tell the difference? Me neither. The bottom line. So in short, sure, use room temp egg whites if you can, but if you don’t have time to let your egg warm up, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, you may not see any difference at all. The heat from your hand will encourage the cold egg to warm up a bit as you work it. Voila! When beaten for the same amount of time, the fresh egg (left photo) reached stiff peaks, but nowhere near as stiff as the old egg on the right. The expiration dates for these two eggs were about 8 weeks apart. The bottom line. So there would be no noticeable difference in your end product. It really comes down to how long you re willing to wait for the stiff peaks. With the fresh egg, it seems to get frothy just as fast, I found the transition from soft to stiff to extra stiff to be the sluggish part. If not, then just use your electric beater and know it may take a little longer.

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Hey, that might be a good thing if you re a chronic overbeater like I used to be (before I learned about number 65)! A health-related side note. Although I did just endorse using old eggs, if you’re planning to consume your egg white foam raw (uncooked), as is often the case with mousses and cocktails, always used the freshest eggs possible and WASH the outside of the egg before cracking to reduce your risk of salmonella exposure! (Just know that even with the freshest eggs, there is no way to completely eliminate the risk from salmonella in raw eggs and poultry products. ) Please also remember that the very young, very old, ill, pregnant, and immuno-compromised are more susceptible to food-borne illness than the average healthy adult. Copper bowls are recommended for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it s traditional. Copper prevents overbeating by preventing strong sulfur-sulfur bonds from forming between proteins. The downside is that it introduces extra copper into your food, which some experts think could pose a health risk. Copper bowls are also expensive and difficult to keep clean. Plastic bowls are  not  recommended because they have porous surfaces that can trap fat particles even after washing. That s bad because fat destroys egg foams (see number 8). Yes plastic bowls can trap fat particles, but will that really hurt your foam? The best option is to use a glass or stainless steel bowl along with a dash of cream of tartar to prevent overbeating. It’s what most people use, and it s completely safe and reliable with no risks to your health or foam. If you have a beloved copper bowl you want to use anyway, you re not realistically going to overdose on copper from occasional use. Those that oppose copper bowls on a nutritional basis are taking the safest possible stance. I recommend that route as well (why take the risk? ), especially if children will be consuming the foam. If a plastic bowl is all you have, then it’s doubtful your egg foam is going to draw out fats that even a thorough washing was unable to remove. Go ahead and use plastic if you need to chances are, you’ll come out just fine.

You will need to add cream of tartar to prevent overbeating. Cream of tartar (a source of tartaric acid) is added to egg whites to prevent overbeating. It works by decreasing the pH of the egg foam and preventing the formation of sulfur-sulfur bonds between proteins, which are responsible for the crumbly, leaky texture of overbeaten foams. Acids, like cream of tartar, flood the egg with excess hydrogens. When a sulfur becomes available for bonding, it s much more likely to find a harmless hydrogen to bond with than another sulfur. This allows egg whites to be beaten for much longer without overbeating. Salt is commonly recommended as a substitute when cream of tartar is unavailable. Yes cream of tartar is very effective against overbeating, and it s relatively flavorless. An 6/8 of a teaspoon per egg white is the recommended amount. Salt definitely does NOT work. The cream of tartar foam looks fluffy and uniform, with stiff peaks and a fine texture. The salt foam is overbeaten and leaky, with a crumbly-looking texture. Since the salt has nothing to do with preventing overbeating, you ll still need to add some cream of tartar. Is it really necessary to wait? The egg foam on the left was beaten with sugar from the start. As you can see, it is a puddle of thick syrupy goo that can t hold peaks of any sort. The egg foam on the right had the sugar added slowly only after reaching very soft peaks. It s glossy and voluminous. Perfect for pies or meringue cookies! Add sugar one tablespoon at a time only  after  reaching soft peaks. This will give you perfect, stable meringue every time.

Don t add your sugar at the beginning unless you dislike fluffy meringue toppings and you d like to try a smooth, dense one. Adding water to your egg whites thins them out and makes them easier to beat. Not really. Your foam will be lighter and softer (which sounds nice), but you ll find  it s nearly impossible to reach stiff peaks. Maybe a soft foam is okay with you, but the added water will quickly drain from the bubble walls, leaving you with a fragile, dry foam with a watery layer at the bottom. To the egg white below, I added a teaspoon of water, which is about as much water as you would introduce by leaving a large bowl wet after a rinse. As you can see in the right hand photo, the water drained out fairly quickly, leaving my foam layer dry and brittle. Avoid adding water to your egg whites. Egg white solutions that are comprised of 95% or more water will not hold a stable foam at all. Sometimes there is a fine line between perfect peaks and overbeaten, ruined egg whites (esp if you re not using cream of tartar). The stiffness your foam reaches, and whether or not it s overbeaten, will almost always affect the volume and texture of your final product, so it s important to recognize the different stages. More air means the liquid phase around the bubbles surfaces thins out and flows less easily. The slideshow below shows an un-sugared foam in its different phases. Note that there are a range of soft peaks and a range of stiff peaks. The slideshow below shows a sugared foam (meringue) in its different phases. Detergents can be just as damaging. In fact, they both work to destroy egg white foams in much the same way. They compete with protein for space at the air bubbles surfaces. Soon, the protein-protein bonds that made a protective wall around each bubble are weakened, and the bubble pops. The fat or detergent molecules move on to find the next bubble to cozy up to and destroy. You get the idea.

Yes. The most common method of fat contamination is from egg yolk. If the yolk breaks, it s difficult to avoid getting a little of it in your egg whites. Detergents can come into play if your bowl hasn t been rinsed well enough after washing.

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