Egg Whites and Cocktails
by Darcy O'Neil on December 2010
Raw eggs are not all the rage these days, unless of course you are a chicken farmer, or an avid fan of cocktails. In many classic cocktails, eggs were an important part of the recipe, providing unmatched texture and mouth feel. Some of the best know cocktails that use eggs are flips, sours and egg nogg. Without the egg, these drinks are a mere shell of the original recipe. But bringing back the raw egg, by convincing a bar or restaurant owner that the risk of illness is very small, can be a daunting task. Management will always state that the risk of someone getting food poisoning, or salmonella, is too high and it is not worth it, simply to make a better cocktail.
Cocktails like the Pisco Sour and Whisky Sour are not the only culinary creation to suffer the this fate, the caesar salad, hollandaise, mayonnaise, mousse and meringues were also victims. But, it doesn’t have to be this way! With a little knowledge, and proper technique, it is possible to bring the raw egg back to the cocktail world.
The reason the egg was removed from many cocktails was from some bad publicity. At some point in time it was stated that “eating raw eggs could lead to serious illness from salmonella.” The FDA states that all eggs should be cooked for at least 6 minutes to kill any bacteria. Then, they state that only 1 in 20,000 eggs has the salmonella bacteria. The odds of getting salmonella from an egg are extremely remote and you have a better lifetime chances of dying from accidental drowning (1 in 1,000), storm related (1 in 3,000) or slipping (1 in 6,500). Nowhere does the National Safety Council's data state that raw eggs are a common risk, however, death from choking on food is rated at 1 in 5000 odds. Even if, by some really bad luck, you did get salmonella, it is unlikely you would die from it. The general consensus should then be; eating raw eggs do not expose a normal healthy person to any more risk than regular day-to-day living.
Now that those details are out of the way, we can get down to why eggs, and egg whites particularly, help make a great cocktail. The main protein (ovalbumin), in eggs, is a tightly wound molecule and when it is shaken or beaten, it unravels. Think of shaking a big box full of slinkies and then trying to sort them out. That box will probably remain a stable mess for a while. When this happens in a cocktail shaker, the egg proteins do the same thing, they get all tangled up and this forms bubbles and foam.
Many of the drinks that use egg whites tend to be acidic, like sours, because the acid in the drink stabilizes the egg protein. This inhibits the proteins them from binding with each other, which makes for smaller bubbles and a better foam.
Fresh eggs are always best, but if your manager is holding his ground and quoting insurance rates, you still have a couple of options. The first is pasturized egg whites and the second is powdered egg whites. Pasturized egg whites are available in your local megamart. They are a little more pricey and require safe handling since they come in little cartons, not the best container behind the bar. They are still raw eggs and if not stored properly, in a refrigerator, they may actually be a perfect growth medium for many types of bacteria, including salmonella.
The best option to get a stubborn manager to change his mind is to use powdered egg whites. They are very cheap, easy to store, convenient to use and come pasturized. Almost all commercial egg white producers perform quality control tests and guarantee their product salmonella free. You can even ask for a C of A (Certificate of Analysis).
Some people will equate powdered egg whites with synthetic products, but the fact is that powdered egg whites have simply had the water removed. There has not been any alteration of the protein nor have any chemical additives been included. The “synthetic” argument is the equivalent of saying table sugar is “synthetic” because it has been extracted from cane sugar syrup. Sugar is more processed than egg whites. Egg whites also don’t contribute much, if any, flavour to the cocktail.
Make sure you use 100% egg whites and not meringue powder, the two products are different, meringue powder has starch and sometimes vanilla flavouring added.
To re-hydrate your egg white, take two teaspoons of powder and add one ounce of water. This will make roughly one egg white. You can also add the powder directly to you drink recipe, but make sure you dissolve it properly in the liquid. Do this before you add the ice to your cocktail shaker and never add powdered egg white and alcohol together. The egg whites will turn into some form of hard plastic like material.
The last thing to remember is always give your customer what they want. If they are a little squirrelly about drinking a raw egg white, then make the drink without it. Some people just are not comfortable with the thought of raw eggs, and that is perfectly fine.