HUMPTY DUMPTY imposters Substitutes help lift the ban on raw egg recipes

THE BALTIMORE SUN

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.

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.

I used these egg products in a number of dishes, from Caesar salad to spaghetti carbonara. In a blind taste test, I don't think anyone would have noticed. I also baked with them, making tasty Mexican corn muffins and, with skim milk, a delicious low-fat flan.

But you can't exchange egg substitutes for real eggs in every recipe. For example, dishes that require separated eggs such as souffles or mousses won't work with egg substitutes. You also can't use substitutes when recipes call for more than three eggs. (But you can use liquid whole eggs.)

I also compared the egg substitutes against each other in the simplest way possible, scrambled with only butter and salt. Simply Eggs was, not surprisingly, the richest in flavor. But among the egg substitutes, Scramblers was the closest to true egg flavor. It also smelled most like real eggs as it cooked in the pan.

Egg Beaters came in second. Healthy Choice, Lucerne and Second Nature were almost indistinguishable in taste. Not bad, but not terrific either. Lucerne had a spongier, grainier texture and looked the most like "fake" eggs.

When using substitutes in scrambled eggs, it's best to keep them a bit loose. Remember, no need to worry about undercooking causing salmonella. Minced chives or scallions and fresh herbs help immeasurably.

Frankly, I was surprised by how well the egg substitutes worked in mayonnaise and hollandaise. The hollandaise was a bit grainy but I haven't made it for some time. So maybe we can chalk it up to rusty technique.

Hollandaise sauce

Makes 1 cup

1 stick butter

1/3 cup egg substitute

2 tablespoons lemon juice

pinch cayenne pepper or -- of Tabasco

salt and white pepper to taste

Melt butter in a pan on the stove or in a microwave oven. Remove from heat. In the top of a double boiler, combine egg substitute, lemon juice, cayenne, salt and pepper. Whisk constantly over hot, not boiling, water in the bottom chamber of the double boiler. When lightly thickened, add melted butter in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly. Continue to whisk until sauce thickens. Taste for seasoning. Will keep an hour in a warm (not hot) place on the stove.

Spaghetti carbonara

Serves 4

3/4 pound spaghetti

4 ounces pancetta or bacon, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 cup dry white wine

3/4 cup egg substitute

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

freshly ground pepper to taste

salt to taste

Heat water for spaghetti and cook according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large skillet (a wok is great), cook pancetta until done. Drain on paper towels; add garlic and wine to skillet. Reduce over high heat a minute or two. Turn off heat. Combine egg substitute, cheese, parsley and pepper in a bowl. Mix well.

When spaghetti is done, drain, reserving 1/2 cup or so of cooking liquid. Turn heat on under skillet, add spaghetti, egg mixture and bacon. Toss until well mixed, adding a little cooking liquid to thin and smooth out sauce. Taste for salt.

Caesar salad

Serves 8

3 cloves garlic

8 anchovy fillets (or to taste)

2/3 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon Worcestershire

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/2 cup egg substitute

salt and pepper to taste

2 small-medium heads romaine lettuce, washed, dried and torn into bite-size pieces

2 cups homemade croutons

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

With motor of food processor running, drop in garlic cloves. When minced, scrape down sides of bowl and add anchovies. Puree. Scrape down sides again. Add olive oil, lemon juice, Worcestershire, mustard and egg substitute. Mix until smooth. Taste for salt and pepper (remember, cheese will add saltiness).

Put romaine in a large salad bowl. Toss with dressing. Add croutons and toss again. Add cheese and toss again. Taste for salt.

Mayonnaise

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1/3 cup egg substitute

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice, or more to taste

salt to taste

Put egg substitute, mustard and vinegar in blender or food processor. Mix well. With motor running, add oil in a steady stream. When fully mixed, add lemon juice and salt.

Flan with mango

mint salsa

Serves 4

1/2 cup sugar

3/4 cup egg substitute

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

pinch salt

1 1/2 cups skim milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup peeled, diced mango

2 tablespoons chopped mint

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts (optional)

In a small saucepan, put 1/4 cup sugar. Heat on low until it liquefies and turns caramel color. Pour into 4 custard cups (about 5 or 6 ounces each). Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine egg substitute, lemon rind and salt. Whip slightly. Add remaining sugar and mix well. In a small saucepan, scald milk by heating until tiny bubbles form around edges of the pan. Gradually add hot milk to egg mixture, stirring constantly. Mix in vanilla. Pour into custard cups and cover with foil.

Put custard cups in a baking dish half-filled with water. Bake at 325 degrees for 45-50 minutes or until custard is set. Remove and chill.

Meanwhile, combine mango, mint, lime juice and pine nuts, if desired. Chill. To serve, turn flan out onto 4 dessert plates and surround with salsa.

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