In Cool Hand Luke, Paul Newman bets the guys on his chain-gang that he can eat 50 eggs in an hour. Along with the dinner at the inn in Upton in Tom Jones, it may be one of the best (over)eating scenes in film. But Luke's face when he finishes—pale, sweaty, semiconscious—should be enough of a warning not to try this at home.
Today, in the dairy aisles of upscale grocery stores, it's possible to get queasy just considering the 50 varieties of eggs available and trying to figure out which are worth their sometimes exorbitant prices. Organic farms with names like "The Contented Hen" say that their chickens "roam freely in barns" and eat an all-vegetarian diet. But do eggs taste any better when hens are raised on the chicken equivalent of a hippie commune instead of a state penitentiary?
To find out, I convinced two Slate colleagues to do a taste test, promising them that nobody would be required to consume at Cool Hand Luke-like levels. We tasted store-brand eggs, two kinds of organic eggs, and fresh eggs—both chicken and duck, the latter just for kicks. With some reluctance, I also decided that, while we were contemplating a major egg overdose, we should sample egg substitutes, too. I had never tried any, but the cholesterol-phobic and salmonella-phobic have a right to know which is the best. (Click
Eggs Price/dozen Safeway large eggs $1.29 Country Hen organic eggs $4.99 Giving Nature organic eggs $4.99 Fresh non-organic chicken eggs from Copps Hill Farm in Esmont, Va. Though these were a gift, another farm in Ohio sells fresh eggs for $1.25/dozen Fresh non-organic duck eggs from same Also a gift, fresh duck eggs
can be purchased at farms for
|Egg Beaters||$2.99/12 oz.|
|Safeway Best of the Egg||$2.69/16 oz.|
|Nulaid Egg Product||$2.29/16 oz.|
How It Worked
I decided to leave baking out and focus on straight egg dishes. We tried all the real eggs both hardboiled and scrambled, ranking them and recording comments. The winner would be determined by combining the results of both tests. The tasting was not entirely blind. While I assigned each egg a number and numbered the positions on the plates, in the hardboiled competition it was impossible not to notice how much larger the duck egg was, and how much smaller the puny store-brand egg was.
I boiled the eggs each for the same amount of time (except for the duck egg, which was obviously larger and would have been undercooked). For fairness sake I should mention that the smallness of the Safeway egg meant that in proportion to its size it was cooked slightly more and ended up a little drier than its organic competitors.
How They Did
The Real Thing: Each person ranked the five eggs separately for hardboiled and scrambled. I gave the eggs points from each taster and in each event—5 for first place, 4 for second, 3 for third, etc.—and added up each egg's total. When a taster declared a tie, I averaged the scores.
Hardboiled Scrambled Totals Safeway $1.29 2-3-2 3-2-1 13 Country Hen $4.99 1-5-1 1-3-5 16 Giving Nature $4.99 3-1-4 4-3-2 17 Chicken ? 5-4-3 2-3-3 20 Duck ? 4-2-5 4-1-4 20 Eggs Hardboiled
Safeway "Tastes like an egg." "Yolk was kind of pasty." "Tastes like my grandma's house." "Kind of tasteless
but utterly unobjectionable."
Country Hen "Weird aftertaste." "Kind of blah." "Very yellow." "Smoky? Really buttery." Giving Nature "Just ordinary. No fireworks." "Cloying—too rich." "This is the steak of the egg world. Hearty. Flavorful." Chicken "Yum yum yum. BEST! (Because no weird aftertaste.)" "Very creamy texture. Good." "Eggy." Duck "Whoa, that's delicious. (But is that a weird aftertaste?) … A starburst of rich magicalness. Weird aftertaste." "Oooh Mama. Now that's an egg. I could eat this all night. Wait! I have been eating this all night."
The Wannabes: All three of us ranked Egg Beaters first. Two tasters ranked Nulaid second and Safeway Best of the Egg last; the third switched these two. Everyone found Nulaid and Best of the Egg to be tasteless. Here, on the other hand, is what they said about Egg Beaters: "Definitely eggy. Surprisingly good. Buttery?" "Indistinguishable from real. Weirdly onion-ey—or is that echoes of my lunch?"