Imposters Substitutes help lift the ban on raw egg recipes

HUMPTY DUMPTY

October 06, 1993|By Sam Gugino | Sam Gugino,Knight-Ridder News Service

A story on egg substitutes in Wednesday's A La Carte sectio incorrectly reported the number of calories and fat in one egg. There are approximately 77 calories and 5 grams of fat in one large egg.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Have you given up homemade mayonnaise forever? Have you forsaken eggnog, even liberally spiked with bourbon? Does the prospect of Caesar salad make you a little queasy (and I'm not talking about the anchovies)?

What these dishes have in common is that they all are made with raw eggs. For many Americans, the threat of salmonella has made the idea of eating raw eggs, however disguised, as tantalizing as week-old sushi.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Fortunately, there is a whole slew of egg substitutes that can bring back those favorite dishes without a major sacrifice in taste. And, in many instances, these substitutes provide a bonus of lower -- sometimes no -- fat.

Egg substitutes aren't new. In fact, this year, Egg Beaters, the original egg substitute, celebrates its 20th anniversary. But just in the past few years, Egg Beaters, which controls 47 percent of the market, has been joined by numerous other egg substitutes. Even Safeway has weighed in with its own brand under the Lucerne label.

Egg substitutes are a $129 million-a-year business that is expected to triple in the next three years. So popular have egg substitutes become that they have moved out of the frozen food case -- presumably there because they didn't move fast enough -- and into the refrigerated section, right next to the real eggs.

Why the hubbub over raw eggs and salmonella? Salmonella enteritidis, the bacteria transmitted through chickens, can cause salmonellosis, an illness manifested by abdominal cramps, fever, headaches, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. It can be severe, even fatal, in people whose immune systems are weakened by AIDS or cancer, age or pregnancy.

Salmonella enteritidis most often occurs in restaurants and other areas of the food service sector. That's because one of the primary ways eggs can become infected is by "pooling," or combining large quantities of eggs, usually more than a dozen. These large quantities may be contaminated by egg shells -- where most of salmonella enteritidis resides -- by long exposure to unrefrigerated temperatures and by undercooking, as in hollandaise sauce.

Few reported cases of salmonella enteritidis have been linked to home egg use. Nationwide, salmonella enteritidis outbreaks reported to the U.S. Department of Agriculture have declined from a peak of 77 in 1989 to 55 last year.

Despite the declining numbers, USDA officials are wary of sounding optimistic.

"The cases listed may only be the tip of the iceberg. They are only the reported and investigated cases when the outbreak affects dozens or more people. It doesn't take into account the individuals who may get it and not know what it is," says Kendra Pratt of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

So what's a consumer to do?

5) That's where egg substitutes come in.

Taste-testing substitutes

I tried five egg substitutes and one brand of reduced cholesterol whole eggs in cooked and non-cooked dishes recently and got surprisingly good results.

What's in egg substitutes? Egg whites, mostly, up to 99 percent in the case of Egg Beaters and 98 percent with Healthy Choice. (The other brands -- Lucerne, Second Nature and Scramblers -- didn't specify.) After that, it varies. Most have some kind of food starch or vegetable gum. Some have non-fat milk. And all have some kind of coloring such as beta carotene or annatto. Egg Beaters is the "cleanest" with only vegetable gum and beta carotene in addition to egg whites.

Though salmonella is rarely present in egg whites, egg substitutes are pasteurized to kill any possibility of bacteria.

Some companies, such as Ener-G-Foods in Seattle -- (800) 331-5222 -- offer powdered egg whites that can be reconstituted for meringues. The drying process eliminates the salmonella bacteria.

From a nutritional standpoint, Egg Beaters has 25 calories and zero grams of fat for a 1/4 -cup serving. For similar serving sizes, Healthy Choice and Lucerne have 30 calories and less than a gram of fat; Scramblers 35 calories and zero fat; and Second Nature, 40 calories and zero fat.

Each 1/4 cup of egg substitute is equal to one whole egg. Whole eggs contain 150 calories and 10 grams of fat.

Simply Eggs, on the other hand, is liquid whole eggs combined with salt, citric acid, calcium, vitamin A and thiamine. Since the eggs have been pasteurized, they are as safe to use as egg substitutes. Cholesterol is significantly less than regular eggs -- 45 mg vs. 215 mg -- but fat and calories are virtually the same.

The color of the products varies, too. Egg Beaters looks like lemon curd. Lucerne and Second Nature are somewhat paler, Scramblers paler still. Healthy Choice is a dead ringer for egg yolks, or perhaps orange juice. And Simply Eggs has a less-than-appetizing beige hue.

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