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Exotic delights Smart and healthy eggs

Chef Lance Seeto
Sunday, March 11, 2018

THE humble egg has impressive health credentials. However for years eggs have been considered more of a health risk than a healthy food. This is because they were considered a high cholesterol food, so those with high cholesterol levels were advised to avoid them.

We now know that the cholesterol found in food has much less of an effect on our blood cholesterol than the amount of saturated fat we eat. If you are going to fry eggs in unhealthy margarine or processed oils, the health benefits of the egg are somewhat negated by the additional saturated fats in the cooking oil. So before we get on to nutritional ways to enjoy this humble medicine capsule, why are eggs so healthy for us?

Introduction to eggs

Both the white and yolk of an egg are rich in nutrients - proteins, vitamins and minerals with the yolk also containing cholesterol, fat soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids.

Since the domestication of the chicken, people have been enjoying and nourishing themselves with eggs.

As a long time symbol of fertility and rebirth, the egg has taken its place in religious as well as culinary history.

In Christianity, the symbol of the decorated egg has become synonymous with Easter.

In Chinese culture, the egg is almost always served at weddings as a symbol and good luck charm for impending babies.

Almost every hungry animal, bird, reptile and fish loves to steal and eat the eggs of other creatures with very good reason; they contain life-giving properties. And while the chicken egg is the most abundant, more gourmet choices can include fish, duck, turtle and quail eggs.

Eggs are also an important and versatile ingredient for cooking, as their particular chemical make-up is literally the glue of many important baking reactions in cakes, desserts, burgers, pancakes and batters.

Nutritional highlights

Eggs are a very good source of inexpensive, high quality protein. More than half the protein of an egg is found in the eggwhite along with vitamin B2 and lower amounts of fat and cholesterol than the yolk.

The whites are rich sources of selenium, vitamin D, B6, B12 and minerals such as zinc, iron and copper. Egg yolks contain more calories and fat. They are the source of cholesterol, fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and lecithin — the compound that enables emulsification in recipes such as hollandaise sauce or mayonnaise.

And the best thing about an egg; it comes in a hermetically sealed shell that when properly stored, will seal in all the nutrition.

Healthy chickens, healthy eggs

We are yet to see it in Fiji, but visit any overseas supermarket are you are confronted with many types of chicken eggs to suit all the latest diet trends. Farm fresh, cage free, free range, organic, antibiotic and hormone free are just some of the different style of hatched eggs you will find.

The saying that we are what we eat applies just as much to humans as it does chickens. The healthier the diet, the healthier the baby - or in the case of chickens; their eggs.

In Australia, New Zealand and Canada, eggs sold at retail outlets are mostly antibiotic and hormone free, which means the chickens did not eat chemicals or unnatural foods, and in turn their eggs are free from the same artificial additives.

If our coconut crabs (ugavule) taste so sweet and rich in coconut oil because of their unique diet, I have often wondered what the eggs of a coconut-eating chicken would taste like? Would all the natural vitamins and minerals in an egg be supplemented with the anti-aging and healing properties from the tree of life coconut? Hmmm…I wonder.

Different types of eggs

One of the common questions I get is "what's the difference between white eggs and brown coloured eggs?" In terms of taste and nutritional composition — nothing.

Genes determine shell colour, and diet determines nutrition. White-feathered hens with white earlobes lay white eggs; red or brown hens with red earlobes lay brown eggs. There's even an American breed called an Ameraucana, or Eastern egg chicken, that lays eggs with blue shells. Shell quality does not differ by breed, though younger chickens lay eggs with harder shells. Brown-egg chickens tend to be larger and cost more to feed and raise, so white eggs are more cost-efficient.

So what about the different egg varieties?

Free-run eggs come from hens that are raised in an enclosed aviary that allows them to roam freely. Free-range eggs are similar to free-run but the hens also have access to the outdoors like a lot of home raised chickens in Fiji.

Organic eggs come from hens that are only provided feed that has been certified organic, which means that it only contains ingredients that were grown without pesticides, herbicides or commercial fertiliser.

Omega-3 eggs come from hens that were provided feed containing extra flax (up to 10-20 per cent).

As a result, the eggs laid by these hens contain more omega-3 fatty acids. Vitamin-enhanced eggs come from hens that were provided feed that was nutritionally enhanced to include higher levels of certain vitamins like D and E.

And there are vegetarian eggs. The eggs are not really vegetarian but the hens that laid them are!

Eggs for health

There is much evidence to suggest that we should include eggs in our weekly diet. Like all foods that are good for us, eating them in sensible moderation is the key.

If you suffer from high cholesterol, get advice from your personal doctor or nutritionist on how many eggs you should be eating. For every one else, especially growing children, the Australian Heart Foundation recommends one egg a day in conjunction with a well balanced diet of proteins, fruits and vegetables.

Eggs are rich in several nutrients that promote heart health such as betaine, and another called choline. During pregnancy and breast feeding, many doctors recommend an adequate supply of choline since it is essential for healthy brain and nerve development. Choline can also be found in chicken liver, cauliflower and broccoli but eating an egg a day sounds much easier.

In traditional Chinese medicine, eggs are recommended to strengthen the blood and increase energy by enhancing digestive and kidney function.

Getting the most from eggs

There are four basic ways in which eggs can be prepared; boiled, poached, scrambled and fried. The last two techniques of frying or scrambling are best done with a good healthy oil like virgin olive or coconut.

Frying eggs in margarine or cooking oil just increases the consumption of refined saturated fats, turning a nutritional egg into a fatty, oil-laden meal.

Boiling an egg is one of the healthiest ways you can consume it and is the perfect option for those watching their weight. To make the perfect boiled egg, drop the eggs in their shells (preferably at room temperature) into simmering water, and cook for three to 10 minutes on a medium flame.

A short cooking time produces a soft boiled egg, with a runny yolk while boiling the eggs for a longer time will give you a nice hard-boiled egg, which can be eaten plain, sliced, mashed and even added to variety of dishes.

For the perfect scrambled egg, all you need to do is whisk up the eggs in a bowl before pouring them into a hot pan. Whisking will make the batter airy resulting in a light and fluffy preparation when done. Once you pour the batter into the pan, allow it to set for a few seconds and them stir through it and scramble it up.

You can add a variety of ingredients like chopped onions, tomatoes, masala and chilli for more texture and flavour. These can either be mixed into the batter or served as a side dish. Alternatively, pour the egg batter into a hot pan, allow it to settle and cook for a while.

However my favourite way to enjoy eggs is poached; probably because I'm too lazy deshelling a boiled egg at the table. To poach an egg, let water simmer in a pan. Crack the egg into a small bowl and then gently slide it into the pan. Cook the egg until the white has solidified but make sure the yolk remains soft. The "perfect" poached egg has a runny yolk, with a hardening crust. They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Well an egg a day can do the same, with the added benefit of keeping our brain healthy. What a smart egg.

? Join Chef Lance Seeto for lunch at Malamala Beach Club. The views expressed are his and not of this newspaper.

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