The Chicken or the Egg? 3. Instructions to the Cook

Eggs organic with featherEggs a guilty pleasure? There’s a reason for that.

Thanks to Dr. Thomas Royle Dawber’s research team and the famous “gold standard” Framingham Study,[1] eggs morphed into things to be eaten on the sly, enjoyed alone, like a whole bag of foil-wrapped Dove chocolates. Based on the weak statistical correlation between cholesterol levels and heart disease in the original phase of that study, and the assumption that cholesterol in food automatically affected blood cholesterol, the American Heart Association and the American Dietetic Association instructed the entire population to limit eggs to one or two per week. After that decree from on high, a couple of generations of Americans avoided eggs — which DO contain around 215 mg of cholesterol — like the plague.

Thankfully, recent research debunks the eggs-as-evil myth.[2], [3], [4]

Eggs devilAccording to Gray and Griffin,

The link between egg consumption and raised cholesterol levels, which ultimately could lead to cardiovascular disease, was based on out-of-date information. The egg is a nutrient-dense food, a valuable source of high quality protein and essential nutrients that is not high in saturated fat or energy…it is high time we dispelled the mythology surrounding eggs and heart disease and restored them to their rightful place on our menus where they can make a valuable contribution to healthy balanced diets.

But dispensing eggly advice to the eater and, hence, the cook, began eons before the Framingham study.  Like those modern-day scientists, Ibn Sayyār al-Warrāq, in his tenth century Baghdadi Cookbook, weighed in on the merits of eggs:

Eggs rawEgg yolk is moderately hot and is a good source of nourishment. Egg white is cold, viscid, and hard to digest. Eggs, boiled (salīq) and scrambled (mushattar) are nourishing but are slow to digest and take longer to go through the digestive system. Soft-cooked eggs (raqīq) nourish the body remarkably fast. Eggs cooked in stews (matbūkh) are less harmful than boiled eggs and faster to digest.

Eggs are good for sore throats and raw lungs. The blood they generate is balanced and good. Indeed, so much so, that they may sometimes substitute for meat. People whose bodies are dominated by moisture (martūbīn) should eat eggs less often, so know this, God willing.[5]

Unless you suffer from certain medical conditions,  you’ve got the green light to cook and eat eggs on a daily basis if you darn well please. In any way you please. For the moment anyway.

So get out those toast points! It’s time to get cracking!

Marion Cunningham, author of the thirteenth edition of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, states emphatically that, “There are about ten basic ways to cook an egg, and a nearly infinite number of variations.” (She splits up the “boiled” category into three — soft, medium, and hard.)

Baked. Boiled. Coddled. Deviled. Poached, Fried. Scrambled. Shirred. Omeletted. Souffléed.[6]

Eggs SparrowHere’s Ibn Sayyār al-Warrāq again, with his “Sparrow Frittata”:

A recipe for another omelet made with sparrows (‘aşāfīr):[7]

Clean the sparrows and fry them in oil and a little salt until they brown. Take 10 eggs, and beat them with a little black pepper and chopped cilantro. Pour the egg mixture on the sparrows, fry them until they are done, and serve them God willing.

To be continued …

© 2009 C. Bertelsen

[1] The Framingham study began in 1948 in Framingham, Massachusetts, studying the cardiovascular health of 5209 residents of the town, both men and women.


[2] Gray, J. and Griffin, B. “Eggs and dietary cholesterol — dispelling the myth.” Nutrition Bulletin 34(1): 66 – 70, 2009.

[3] Kritchevsky, S. and Kritchvesky, D. “Egg consumption and coronary heart disease: an epidemiological overview.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 19(5): 549S-555S, 2000.

[4] Actually, the 1997 edition of The Joy of Cooking on page 122 mentions briefly that “Recent studies, however, suggest that eating eggs in moderation has little effect on the level of blood cholesterol and most nutritionists agree that eggs have a place in a well-rounded, well-balanced diet.”

[5] From translation by Nawal Nasrallah, Annals of the Caliphs’ Kitchen (2007).

[6] Do remember to cook eggs in a safe manner. Salmonella still lurks.

[7] Nasrallah, Nawal. Annals of the Caliphs’ Kitchens (2007), p. 328.

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