The basis of many breakfasts, lunches, dinner and desserts…the humble egg remains a key ingredient in most kitchens.

Eggs are an inexpensive and nutritious source of protein, packed with vitamins and minerals. They are the ultimate in convenience food and their versatility in cooking – from sweet to savoury – means that most food enthusiasts use eggs on a regular basis in the kitchen. But there is more to eggs than meets the eye and understanding this basic ingredient will ensure you get the most out of it in your foodie endeavours.

Nutrition

Chicken eggs supply essential amino acids and several vitamins and minerals, including retinol (vitamin A), riboflavin (vitamin B2), folic acid (vitamin B9), vitamin B6, vitamin B12, choline, iron, calcium, phosphorus and potassium. The egg is also one of the few foods to naturally contain vitamin D.

The eggs white contains the bulk of the protein while the egg’s fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids are in the egg yolk.

A large hen’s egg yolk contains approximately 60 calories (250 kilojoules); the egg white contains about 15 calories (60 kilojoules).

The diet of the laying hens can affect the nutritional quality of the eggs. For instance, chicken eggs that are especially high in omega 3 fatty acids are produced by feeding laying hens a diet containing polyunsaturated fats and flax seed meal.

Food safety

Salmonella is the main food safety risk when it comes to eggs. When it comes to ready-to-eat dishes, the FSAI recommends the following for controlling the risk of salmonella in eggs:

  • Pasteurised egg is the safest form of egg to use in ready-to-eat dishes.
  • Eggs produced under the Bord Bia Quality Assurance Scheme or an equivalent body in another EU member state are the next safest source.
  • The use of unstamped/ungraded eggs should be avoided as these are not controlled under the national salmonella testing scheme. Controls on such eggs may not be as strict as those used in the Bord Bia Quality Assurance Scheme. All stamped hens eggs are sourced from flocks that are subject to statutory controls for salmonella
  • The use of duck eggs, irrespective of source, is not recommended in ready-to-eat foods that are not cooked, since these eggs are commonly contaminated with salmonella.

People most vulnerable to salmonella poisoning are babies, toddlers, pregnant women, the elderly and people whose immune system is weakened. If you are preparing eggs or egg dishes for these people, it is safest to use pasteurised egg. Eggs must be thoroughly cooked – until both the yolk and white are solid – to kill any salmonella that may be present. It is also advised that you wash your hands before and after handling raw eggs and dispose of broken egg shells immediately. Clean up spills as soon as they happen and clean and disinfect surfaces, dishes and utensils after working with raw eggs. (Source: www.fsai.ie)

Selecting and storing

When choosing your eggs, freshest are always best. Never buy eggs that are cracked or broken and keep an eye out for Bord Bia’s Quality Assurance Mark – if it carries the Origin Ireland Q Mark then you are assured that the eggs were laid and packed in the Republic of Ireland. It is worth noting also that Ireland is one of only four EU countries (the other three are Scandinavian) which have an EU approved salmonella plan and since the introduction of the Bord Bia Scheme over 10 years ago, there has been no salmonella outbreaks in Bord Bia Quality Assured flocks.

For many, the way in which the bird is reared is a key factor when buying. Organic eggs are the most expensive, being laid by hens who have been reared in the most humane way possible and with strict governing criteria regarding their housing, freedom of movement and feed. Eggs that carry a ‘free range’ label must have been produced in registered establishments complying with legislative requirements relating to housing, open air runs and stocking density.

Store eggs in a clean, cool, dry place – ideally in the fridge. Keep eggs away from other foods to prevent cross-contamination