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No yolk: Pasteurized egg whites are a baker's boon

Thursday, December 09, 1999

By Betsy Kline, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Baking season is upon us, and cookie, cake and pie bakers are on the prowl not only for new recipes, but for new shortcuts to make their time in the kitchen not only productive but easier and safer.

Of all the new food products to come down the pike, the most exciting -- for this baker anyway -- is the availability of pasteurized egg whites for home cooks. Commercial bakers and food service companies have had the benefit of these products for decades, but they've only appeared on the retail market in the last five years, and even more recently in Pittsburgh supermarkets.

Two products now available in most supermarkets -- Just Whites, a powdered, pasteurized egg white, and AllWhites, a pourable pasteurized egg white in a carton -- solve two quandaries. First, there's no waste. No unwanted egg yolks staring accusingly at you from a dish every time you open the fridge. If you're like us, you can't throw anything away, even if you have a good hunch you're never going to use it. You just hang onto it until common sense dictates that it's no longer safe to use.

The second and best advantage of pasteurized egg whites is food safety. Whole, raw eggs carry the small but ever-present risk of salmonella poisoning, especially for the very young, the elderly, pregnant women, and anyone with a compromised immune system, including persons with AIDS and cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Properly cooked, of course, fresh eggs pose no health risk. But many recipes -- especially many of our favorites in old, cherished cookbooks -- use portions of uncooked eggs in salad dressing, cookie and cake icings, and much more. Pasteurized eggs eliminate the risk -- unless, of course, you cross contaminate them with other unsafe foods.

The pourable egg whites are the simplest to use -- no messy cracked shells or tricky separating whites from yolks. AllWhites, one of many egg products produced by Papetti Foods of Elizabeth, N.J., is 100 percent egg whites that have been heat pasteurized and packaged. As simple as that.

The powdered Just Whites, a product of Deb-El Foods Corp., headquartered across the street from Papetti but not connected with it, are the result of a food technology that goes back 75 years, said Daniel Gibber, Deb-El vice president of marketing. Liquid egg whites are sprayed into a huge dryer, the resulting powder collected and then heat pasteurized. It has been on the market in limited distribution for about five years, he says. Just Whites require a bit of work before you use them. They must be measured, then stirred with warm water until dissolved. The instructions say about two minutes of gentle stirring and that's what it takes. Emphasize the gentle. We overdid it with the whisk on our first try and ended up with too much froth. We had to pitch that and start over.

So with these safe, waste-free alternatives now available to home cooks the question becomes: how well do they perform in your favorite recipes? We wondered if there would be noticeable differences in taste, texture or appearance when powdered or pourable pasteurized egg whites were used. Mind you, these are not egg substitutes we're talking about -- these are the real thing, just taken a few steps beyond the shell.

We did side by side recipe tests of three of our favorites -- the Duquesne Club macaroon, chocolate chip meringue cookies and lemon meringue pie -- calling for mostly or exclusively egg whites to see if there was any difference in the quality of the end product. Fresh eggs were used as the control experiment. We were surprised by the results.

Duquesne Club macaroon

The Duquesne Club macaroon is a dense, intensely sweet treat made of egg whites, powdered and granulated sugars, and huge amounts of almond paste. Using a single-batch recipe, as given to us by chef Keith Coughenour of the exclusive Downtown club several years ago, we usually have a dozen egg yolks left over.

Both the Just Whites and AllWhites produced a flavorful cookie, barely distinguishable taste-wise from the original. The AllWhites version was virtually identical in appearance and texture. The Just Whites macaroon actually was a tad chewier, but with a more pleasing, crackled appearance with a nice glossy shine.

Tester's note: Next time we make this cookie, we're going with the powdered whites.

Chocolate Chip Meringues

This is a favorite cookie because it is low-fat and so easy. Unlike many meringue cookies which sit for hours drying in the oven, this one is in and out in 45 minutes. Easy as whipping eggs? Not exactly.

The control recipe of fresh eggs went together in a snap. A pinch of salt, cream of tartar and sugar join the egg whites in a mixing bowl and produce a meringue in no time. Add the cocoa powder and chocolate chips and you're on your way.

The Just Whites frothed to a glossy meringue in no time and produced a cookie identical to the control.

The AllWhites refused to fluff. In fact, the longer we beat the egg whites in a heavy stand mixer the flatter they became. Figuring we'd done something wrong, we threw it out and started over. Same result. These liquid whites just don't take a beating.

What happened? We called Spiros Gavras, director of marketing for retail products for Papetti Foods. He admitted the company goofed when it introduced the product nearly two years ago. Recipe testing showed that the 100 percent egg white didn't whip -- a result of the pasteurization process. But the packaging stated that AllWhites "make possible many recipes that require only egg whites." It didn't state that it wouldn't whip, period.

"It was a learning experience," said Gavras. After apologizing and offering refunds to consumers, the company is altering the package to clearly state its limitations. Papetti Foods is now testing a new product. AllWhite Whipping Whites, when it hits the shelves, will be specifically for whipped recipes. It will contain citric nitrate and gum to give the pasteurized product bulk.

Tester's note: Powdered whites win the day again in this recipe, though the stirring to dissolve is tedious.

Lemon Meringue Pie

This is one recipe where using separated whole eggs makes sense since the filling calls for the yolks. However, if you're a fan of mile-high meringues but worry that they might not be cooked all the way through, then using pasteurized egg whites makes perfect sense.

For this test, we used our favorite from-scratch recipe from "The Fannie Farmer Baking Book" by Marion Cunningham. It takes almost two hours (an hour of that is spent just cooling the lemon filling) but it's worth it. (If you're looking to cut corners and you're not out to impress, we found a nifty product in the baking aisle of the supermarket. It's Lemon Pie Filling and Pudding from Durkee. A small 4-ounce box makes enough filling for a 9-inch pie; all you add are 3 tablespoons of sugar, 2 egg yolks and water. It cooks up just like the real thing, although the flavor doesn't have quite the same lemony zing.)

Our control recipe made with fresh egg whites produced a glossy meringue that browned very evenly in the oven.

The Just Whites powder, once dissolved in water in the proper measurements, produced a fluffy meringue that browned a bit darker, with deeper contrasts of white and brown. Not bad at all.

As we expected after the meringue cookie failure -- but before we knew the reason why, once again the AllWhites refused to cooperate, and only succeeded in splattering everything on the kitchen counter with sticky droplets.

Tester's note: For lemon meringue pie, unless health is a primary concern, stick with the fresh eggs. You're going to need the yolks for the filling anyway.

All this egg business puts us in mind of a souffle recipe we'd like to try, but that can wait till another day.

Pros and cons

You pay extra for the convenience of all egg whites, but when you subtract the waste of unused yolks and add up the health protection, we think it's worth it.

Prices:

A dozen fresh extra-large eggs: average 79 to 85 cents.

AllWhites: $2.35 for equivalent of 10 egg whites (two-carton package).

Just Whites: $3.79 for equivalent of 21 egg whites.

Measuring:

Fresh eggs: Separating whites from yolks is messy. Shards of shell sometimes escape and yolks break.

AllWhites: Equivalent measures easy to follow. Just pour and use.

Just Whites: This very fine powder is hard to work with (it has a tendency to fly away), but the equivalents are easy to follow. Be sure to use warm water and stir gently.

Shelf life:

Fresh eggs: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, they remain safe for use for up to 4 to 5 weeks after purchase if properly refrigerated at temperatures not exceeding 45 degrees.

Just Whites: Shelf-stable, use anytime. Gibber says it should keep for two years stored at room temperature away from high humidity. Ours clumped, but regained its fine powdery texture when we shook the can vigorously. (Tester's note: Suggest you pencil in the number of egg whites you use on the resealable lid so you won't be caught short later.)

AllWhites: Once opened, carton's contents must be used within 7 days. Observe "use by" dates. They can be frozen, says Papetti's Gavras, although he adds they should be thoroughly thawed in the refrigerator before use to avoid gritty ice crystals in the end product.

Best uses:

Fresh eggs: Properly cooked, they can be used in any recipes calling for eggs. Risk enters the picture when undercooked (in runny scrambled eggs) or not at all (Caesar salad).

Just Whites: This all-natural, fat- and cholesterol-free product is a great source of protein. Deb-El's Gibber says it works well in just about all applications, although he says a white omelet (no yolks used) made with the product can tend be a bit rubbery.

AllWhites: It works best in cooking preparations and baking applications that do not require whipping. Excellent for diet-conscious folks who like the taste of eggs without the cholesterol-laden yolks. "Good for Caesar salad," says Gavras.

Related Recipes:

Duquesne Club Macaroons
Lemon Meringue Pie
Chocolate Chip Meringue Cookies



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