Why Don’t We Eat Turkey Eggs?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Nov. 21 2012 1:35 PM

White or Dark, but Never Scrambled

Why don’t Americans eat turkey eggs?

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) with her chicks.
A Wild Turkey with her chicks

Photograph by Magnus Manske/Wikimedia Commons.

Americans will dine on white and dark turkey meat this Thanksgiving, with some using the giblets for stuffing. Still, even on turkey day, most people will start their morning with chicken eggs. Why are turkey eggs so unpopular?

Because they’re expensive. Chicken hens are egg-laying dynamos, dropping one almost every day, while a turkey produces only about two per week. Chickens begin laying eggs at about five months of age, but turkeys don’t have their first cycle until more than two months later. Commercial egg producers typically, although controversially, allocate less than 50 square inches of space to a hen. Turkeys are given more than 3 square feet, enough to accommodate eight chicken hens. Turkeys also require more food than chickens. These factors combine to make turkey eggs far more expensive than chicken eggs. A dozen chicken eggs currently cost approximately $1.61. (Cage-free eggs cost twice as much.) There’s no nationwide data on the cost of turkey eggs—the USDA doesn’t even have grading regulation for turkey eggs—but many producers sell them for $2 to $3 per egg.

Turkey eggs used to be a menu staple in North America. Wild turkeys roamed the continent before the arrival of humans, and archaeologists have found turkey-egg shells at the encampments of pre-Columbian Americans. Hopi Indians consider the eggs a delicacy. (The Navajo ate only the flesh of turkeys, however, European settlers noted.) Europeans took domesticated turkeys across the Atlantic in the 16th century, and turkey eggs were soon a part of Old-World cuisine, particularly in England. Americans also served them until fairly recently. Turkey egg omelettes were a regular offering at New York’s legendary Delmonico’s restaurant in the late 19th century.

Advertisement

The easiest and most traditional preparation method for turkey eggs is boiling (six minutes in simmering liquid) or poaching (four minutes). Nineteenth-century chefs also believed that turkey eggs made better sauces than did the eggs of other fowl. A full recipe can be found here, but the basic process is to boil and dice the eggs, then fold them into a Béchamel sauce. Alexis Soyer, the most celebrated culinary professional in Victorian England and arguably the English-speaking world’s first celebrity chef, claimed that turkey eggs were better in baked goods than chicken eggs. (You have to adjust for their size, of course.)

Turkey eggs have been the subject of slander on the continent—French commentators in the 1500s and 1600s claimed that the eggs caused leprosy. (In fact, the microbe Mycobacterium leprae causes the disease. Armadillos transmit the pathogen to humans, but turkey eggs do not.) Turkey eggs contain most of the same nutrients as chicken eggs but are richer. The average turkey egg is 50 percent larger than a chicken egg, but contains nearly twice as many calories and grams of fat and four times as much cholesterol. Duck and goose eggs also contain more fat and protein than chicken eggs do, which is one reason why most people find “exotic” eggs more flavorful than the ubiquitous chicken egg.

Got a question about today’s news? Ask the Explainer

Brian Palmer is Slate's chief explainer. He also writes How and Why and Ecologic for the Washington Post. Email him at explainerbrian@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.

Doublex

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

Use Facebook to Reconnect With Old Friends, Share Photos, and Serve People With Legal Papers

  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 8:38 PM “No One in This World” Is One of Kutiman’s Best, Most Impressive Songs
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?