egg | Definition, Characteristics, & Nutritional Content

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egg, the content of the hard-shelled reproductive body produced by a bird, considered as food.

While the primary role of the egg obviously is to reproduce the species, most eggs laid by domestic fowl, except those specifically set aside for hatching, are not fertilized but are sold mainly for human consumption. Eggs produced in quantity come from chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, guinea fowl, pigeons, pheasants, and quail. This article describes the processing of chicken eggs, which represent the bulk of egg production in the United States and Europe. Duck eggs are consumed as food in parts of Europe and Asia, and goose eggs are also a food in many European countries. Commercial production of turkey and pigeon eggs is almost entirely confined to those used for producing turkey poults and young pigeons (squabs). Pheasant and quail eggs provide birds for hobby or sport use.

Characteristics of the egg

Structure and composition

The structural components of the egg include the shell and shell membranes (10 percent); the albumen or white (60 percent), including the thick albumen, the outer thin albumen, the inner thin albumen, and the chalazae; and the yolk (30 percent). In a fertilized egg, the yolk supplies the nutrients and the albumen supplies the water necessary for the development of the embryo. In addition, the layers of albumen act as a cushion to protect the embryo from jarring movements, while the chalazae help to maintain the orientation of the embryo within the egg.

The nutrient composition of chicken eggs is presented in the table.

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Nutrient composition of fresh chicken egg (per 100 g)*
energy (kcal)water (g)protein (g)fat (g)cholesterol (mg)carbohydrate (g)vitamin A (IU)riboflavin (mg)calcium (mg)phosphorus (mg)
*100 g is approximately equal to two large whole eggs.
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Composition of Foods, Agriculture Handbook no. 8-1.
whole egg14975.3312.4910.024251.226350.50849178
yolk35848.8116.7630.871,2811.781,9450.639137488
white5087.8110.5201.030.452613

The whole egg is a source of high-quality protein (i.e., proteins that contain all the amino acids needed in the human diet). In addition, it is an excellent source of all vitamins (except vitamin C) and contains many essential minerals, including phosphorus and zinc.

All the fats, or lipids, as well as the cholesterol are found in the yolk. Yolk lipids are high in unsaturated fatty acids, with the ratio of unsaturated to saturated fatty acids commonly being 2 to 1. By influencing the diet of the hen, some processors are able to market shell eggs with a higher ratio of unsaturated to saturated fatty acids. Particular emphasis is being given to increasing the highly unsaturated long-chain omega-3 fatty acids by adding fish oil to the hen feed. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to play a role both in normal growth and development and in the prevention of many diseases.

The cholesterol content of a whole large egg is approximately 216 milligrams—a substantially lower figure than that reported before the late 1980s, when improved analytical techniques were instituted. Moreover, the egg industry has probably made some progress in lowering cholesterol content through genetic selection and improved diets.

More than 90 percent of all eggs are free of contamination at the time they are laid; contamination with Salmonella bacteria and with certain spoilage organisms occurs essentially afterward. Proper washing and sanitizing of eggs eliminates most Salmonella and spoilage organisms deposited on the shell. The organism Salmonella enteritidis, a common cause of gastroenteritis (a form of food poisoning), has been found to be transferred through the hen ovary in fewer than 1 percent of all eggs produced. Ovarian-transferred S. enteritidis can be controlled by thorough cooking of eggs (i.e., until there are no runny whites or yolk).

Certain spoilage organisms (e.g., Alcaligenes, Proteus, Pseudomonas, and some molds) may produce green, pink, black, colourless, and other rots in eggs after long periods of storage. However, since eggs move through market channels rapidly, the modern consumer seldom encounters spoiled eggs.

Fresh eggs

Fresh eggs are gathered on automatic collection belts at the farm and stored in a cooler at about 7 °C (45 °F). The eggs are then delivered to a central processing plant, where they are washed, sanitized, and graded. Grading involves the sorting of eggs into size and quality categories using automated machines. Flash candling (passing the eggs over a strong light source) detects any abnormalities such as cracked eggs and eggs containing blood spots or other defects. Higher-grade eggs have a thick, upstanding white, an oval yolk, and a clean, smooth, unbroken shell.

In the United States eggs are sized on the basis of a minimum weight per dozen in ounces. One dozen extra large eggs weigh 27 ounces (765 grams); large eggs, 24 ounces; medium eggs, 21 ounces. Weight standards in other countries vary, but most are measured in metric units. For example, eggs might be sold in cartons of 10 eggs each.

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Most eggs sold in modern supermarkets are approximately four to five days old. If kept refrigerated by the consumer, they will maintain good quality and flavour for about four weeks.



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