how does salt affect eggs in cooking: I’ve had enough! gotta test it myself!

how does salt affect eggs in cooking

I know I am way in over my head when it comes to food science, but I will give it my best shot here, what do I have to lose? 4 eggs? that’s worth the risk. We’re going to get down and dirty with this salt affect eggs business. Please read and don’t make me “begg” ah! 

After having eaten possibly one zillions eggs in my lifetime (actual number) I have finally stopped and taken a look at one of those kitchen controversies, to salt or not to salt eggs…before cooking them. I hear Julia and Jacques have tested this, I hear they both disagree. I hear Ramsey is all about salting after cooking them, makes them retain that fluffiness he says, Heston salts his eggs before they go in the sous vide bath. Maybe you know of more examples, but this egg thing does seem to be a common subject of debate out there. It probably doesn’t matter which way you go as long as you understand what salt does to eggs and what effect you are looking for in the end. I personally thought salt didn’t really have a big effect on eggs, but boy was I wrong. Let me show you what I found  on my latest test:  

how does salt affect eggs in cooking

For my test I wanted to make sure that I was dealing with as few variables as possible. I wanted to judge salt’s effect on eggs while being cooked. I used my immersion circulator to ensure the cooking conditions were the same but this experiment could be easily repeated by just cooking the two samples on the same pan and using egg cooking rings. Here is what I ended up doing:

1. Crack some eggs, label a couple of  baggies, and measure egg’s weight! 

I used 4 eggs, whipped them together until yolks and whites were nicely mixed, about 2 minutes. Then used my scale to measure the final weight of the eggs so I could divide them in 2 equal parts.

how does salt affect eggs in cooking

how does salt affect eggs in cooking

2. Whip!!! then divide the weight by 2 and fill 2 baggies for vacuum sealing!

Mix all those eggs together, we want a homogeneous mix to make the test a bit more reliable. Wouldn’t want any differences in the individual eggs ruin my night!

how does salt affect eggs in cooking

3. Add some salt to one of the baggies and label accordingly

Added about a teaspoon of kosher salt to one of the baggies. And shook the baggie for a bit to incorporate the salt into the eggs.

how does salt affect eggs in cooking

4. Vacuum seal baggies and let rest in the fridge for about an hour,preheat water bath.

The first thing that became obvious was a change in the color of the eggs, at first thought it was due to differences in vacuum, maybe one of the baggies had lost more air, had less bubbles and therefore looked more translucent… so tried it again. Same deal, salt was doing something to my eggs!

baggie with salt: deeper yellow,clearer, more translucent
baggie no salt: milkier color, less saturated, less translucent

how does salt affect eggs in cooking

how does salt affect eggs in cooking

 

5. cook at 75 °C –  167°F for 15-20 mins

After resting the baggies in the fridge for about an hour (I wanted to make sure that if salt had an effect on texture, the eggs spend enough time with the salt to emphasize this more) the went in the water bath for about 20 mins, making sure that the entire baggies where under water. Wouldn’t want any raw eggs for the tasting part.

how does salt affect eggs in cooking

6. taste and draw conclusions on a full belly

After cooking, the color difference became a bit less noticeable but it was still there. I think had I used more eggs, the difference in color would have been stronger. But the difference in texture was remarkably different to my surprise:

eggs with salt: softer, more tender texture
eggs no salt: rubbery, less interesting

how does salt affect eggs in cooking

how does salt affect eggs in cooking | thatothercookingblog.com

Conclusions:

I would love to hear your opinion on this subject. I have to admit that before this test I had no idea why or how using salt would affect the texture of cooked eggs. I’m not gonna waste my time or yours pretending that I know exactly why (the chemistry behind it) this happened. Instead I did some reading after the test, and I am going to quote Mr Harold McGee, who is quite possibly the most reputable food scientist in the cooking arena today. If you haven’t read his book On Food and Cooking The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, and you are interested in the science of cooking, there’s no better book out there (You could include also the Modernist Cuisine collection of books, but often they too quote Harold McGee). Anyways, here’s what I read in a chapter dedicated to the all mighty egg:

On color:

“Add a pinch of salt to a yolk (as you do when making mayonnaise) and you’ll see the yolk becomes simultaneously clearer and thicker. Salt breaks apart the light-deflecting sub-spheres into components that are too small to deflect light – and so the yolk clears up”

On texture:

“There is no truth to the common saying that acidity and salt “toughen” egg proteins. Acids and salt do pretty much the same thing to eggs proteins. They get the proteins together sooner, but they don’t let them get as close together. That is, acids and salt make eggs thicken and coagulate at a lower cooking temperature, but actually produce a more tender texture.”

What he said… the full chapter has in-depth information if you want to better understand the forces at work behind eggs, salt, and cooking, history, chemistry, etc. I will simply say I was glad I tested this myself and my understanding on the subject is significantly better. As for cooking eggs using salt, I might run a couple more tests when making scrambled eggs, but I would be inclined to add the salt earlier before cooking just based on this experience. I hope you enjoy and find this post useful! Until the next time! cheers!!!

related article: 1hr 63°C egg. The “perfect” soft “boiled” egg.

What are your thoughts on the chemistry of salt affecting food? It is pretty obvious that food is changed in the presence of salt. 

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23 comments

  1. Fantastic opening shot, Paul. Interesting post. I’ve heard chefs/cooks declare both sides of the argument to be true and have always salted my eggs after. Looks like I’ve got to change my evil ways. 😉

    1. thank you John! I think if you like more structure in your eggs, you salt after, if you want a creamier finish, then salt before or add more fat…I feel I need to do more testing before coming with my own evil way… ahah i think both sides are probably correct as long as the desired finish you want is achievable. All cooks have evil ways 🙂

  2. Very interesting Paul, thanks for sharing! I love McGee’s books and I suppose it’s time to read them again because I always discover new things when I do. So far I’ve only cooked eggs sous-vide in their shells, which inhibits the use of salt. Looks like I should make a change 🙂

    1. Thanks Stefan! I love his books as well, I keep a copy of On Cooking.. on my iphone.. yeah, Im that guy… 😛

      I had no idea salt had such a big impact on eggs, before I actually did the test, I was expecting a result that would be like… “sure, either way, i cant tell the difference either way” but instead I was surprised!

  3. Wov … that top photo – amazing … I have never given egg and salt a thought before this, because I couldn’t even play with the thought not to use salt with egg. I’m glad that salt makes the egg taste and look better. Absolute brilliant post.

    1. thank you, Viveka! Since I started learning about cooking I’ve found so many different ways chefs and cooks deal with salt in general, it is confusing. And recipes call for this much salt, or salt here, but not there… anyways, sometimes better to test it yourself. I salt as I cook, not all the salt goes in at once. I taste as I cook and adjust. Salt not only amplifies flavor but also creates reactions in food that if salting only at the end, you’d never allow them to happen, and flavors can be underdeveloped. Or at least that’s why I believe 🙂

      1. Personal I think food without salt, is tasting like sticking the tongue through a window. *smile – Salt brings out the flavors and support the flavors, but I’m not a big user of salt. As you say .. salt has to be added as the dish progress, but through experience of cooking we get in our finger tips. Have worked with chefs that never tasted anything they cooked … never???!!!!

        1. that’s crazy, was the food good though?? 🙂 I have to adjust things as I go which makes writing down a recipe tricky, you can’t really write down some of the things you do as you cook, the recipe would be too long and hard to understand. I add a little water, or correct a sauce with some vinegar, sometimes this little details never make the recipe, because they could be useful today, but not tomorrow because the sweetness of the tomatoes used was different in both cases for example… tricky!

          1. There is no perfect recipe .. and you can give the same ingredients and the same recipe to 5 chefs and you will get 5 totally different dishes.

      2. Tell that to a Michelin starred chef and he will slap you in the face. Salt eggs after, don’t over cook (can tell they are just from the picture), and RECIPES in the restaurant should always be done EXACTLY the same. You shouldn’t give recipes to chefs and get different end products unless you tell them to NOT cook from the recipe.

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