Eggs: the star of the most important meal of the day, and to hear billions of cooks and chefs tell it, quite possibly the world’s most important food. But look inside yourself and ask: have you really explored all the varieties of eggs that this wide world has to offer? We doubt it. Let this excerpt from our newest cookbook, All About Eggs, be an inspiration to get out there and take your ovarian exploration to the next level.
This is a yolkless chicken egg, often laid by a young hen. Usually it has a rough shell. (Also called witch egg, wind egg, and fart egg.) It really spooked people in the olden days. In the 1600s they called these tiny eggs “cock’s eggs” and believed that they would hatch glittering-eyed monsters called basilisks (especially if you incubated your egg under a toad).
About one inch long and roughly a fifth the size of a large chicken egg, the quail egg is the smallest commercially available egg. They take just three minutes to hard-boil and two minutes to soft-boil. Gram for gram, quail eggs are more densely nutritious than chicken eggs, with more B vitamins, iron, and zinc. They’re used medicinally in China and are deep-fried and sold as a street-food snack called kwek kwek in the Philippines.
Chicken eggs come in an array of sizes, depending on many factors, including the hen’s breed and how old she is. Here’s how eggs are classified commercially: peewee (1.25 ounces), small (1.5 ounces), medium (1.75 ounces), large (2 ounces), extra large (2.25 ounces), and jumbo (2.5 ounces).
Pheasant eggs are smaller than average chicken eggs and bigger than quail eggs. The shells are a pretty blue on the inside. The ancient Greeks and Romans used to eat them. A pheasant egg contains more yolk than a chicken egg (nearly double as much) and tends to be yellower.
Duck eggs have rich, thick yolks with three times the cholesterol of chicken eggs. Their whites also contain more protein than chicken eggs—which means that they can get fluffier than chicken eggs in meringues and cakes. People with chicken-egg allergies can sometimes eat duck eggs without problems. They’re especially popular in Asia, where they get salted and preserved.
About one and a half times the size of chicken eggs, turkey eggs contain four times the amount of cholesterol. Centuries ago, these freckled eggs used to be more commonly eaten: Native Americans gathered eggs from wild turkeys that predated humans; Europeans brought turkeys over to their continent in the sixteenth century, and a seventeenth-century English cookbook writer called them “exceeding wholesome to eate.” Delmonico’s served them in omelets in the nineteenth century. They’ve waned in popularity, probably because of their cost in comparison to chicken eggs: Turkeys lay about one hundred eggs a year—way fewer than an average chicken’s three hundred—and usually sell for $2 or $3 each.
Goose eggs clock in larger than duck eggs, almost triple the size of jumbo chicken eggs. Like duck eggs, they have big, deeply orange yolks and are prized for their richness. Golden or otherwise, goose eggs aren’t super-available—probably because geese lay only about forty eggs per year, mostly in the spring.
Emus, native to Australia, are the second largest living bird—second only to ostriches—and their emerald-green eggs weigh two pounds a pop. Each one is about the equivalent of a dozen jumbo chicken eggs. But they’re milder than chicken eggs, with a white-to-yolk ratio of one to one.
Ostriches are the largest birds on earth, which means they lay the largest eggs. An ostrich egg is equivalent to two dozen jumbo chicken eggs. The shells are five to ten times thicker than a chicken egg’s, so they don’t break when they’re being incubated (at night by their 300-pound fathers, and during the day by their mothers). To open an ostrich egg, a hacksaw or power drill can help.
Guillemots, seabirds found in the Arctic Circle and North Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, lay conical turquoise eggs. The birds spend their lives mostly at sea, only coming to shore to lay their eggs in the spring, when Icelanders will rappel down cliffs to harvest them (they taste “nothing of the sea,” according to one guillemot-egg harvester, but have a different texture from chicken eggs). These eggs get laid directly on the bare rock ledges, in large colonies without nests, so each female’s egg has distinct markings. If disturbed, the eggs won’t roll off the cliffs, but will roll in a circle instead.
Tinamous, found in Mexico, South America, and Central America, lay eggs that are brilliantly colored, glossy, and iridescent. We aren’t sure why they’re so beautiful, but some say it’s to draw the attention of female tinamous and signal them to incubate the eggs.
Historically eaten in England (and now in restaurants), the eggs of the black-headed gull have mottled shells and very orange, creamy yolks. The eggs have a very short season—about three to four weeks in the spring—and are hand-harvested from nests in salt marshes and wetlands. Egg harvesting is highly regulated, and eggers are permitted to take only one egg from each gull’s nest.