I overheard two older ladies talking about making deviled eggs, the other day, and one of them commented: “Hard-boiled eggs were so much easier to peel when I was young, I don’t know what’s happened to them!”
It was one of those wonderful, if rare, moments where I actually know the answer to something, in this case due to some inane piece of cooking trivia I learned growing up in restaurant kitchens.
There are a zillion tips out there for how to make a hard-boiled egg easier to peel (and I’m sure I’ll get most of them in the comments to this post), but far fewer on why eggs are so hard to peel in the first place, or why it’s become more difficult.
You can blame those rage-enducing egg-peeling moments (is it just me?) on advances in food processing and delivery time in the last four decades. The store-bought eggs you ate growing up, could take up to two weeks to get from chicken-butt to shelf.
These days, that same egg could be less than 36 hours old.
(Side note: I spoke to an employee at my local Winco, who informed me that all SIX floor-to-ceiling coolers of fresh eggs have to be completely re-stocked every 8 hours!)
Now, in most fresh foods, this is great news, and it’s great news if you’re preparing your eggs in any other fashion. For easy-peel eggs, however, it’s a huge disadvantage.
In fresh eggs (used within a week from laying), the albumen (egg white) tends to stick to the inner shell membrane due to the less acidic environment of the egg.
As an egg sits in the cooler for several days, the pH of the white albumen increases and the hard cooked eggs become much easier to peel. The egg white also shrinks slightly, so the air space between the eggshell and the membrane grows larger, resulting in boiled eggs that are easier to peel.
That whole pH thing, btw, is why the old yarn about using a half-teaspoon of baking soda really does work. Adding baking soda to the water to raise its pH level, effectively dissolving the gorilla-glue that God uses to attach the white to the shell.
BTW, you probably won’t hear phrases like “the pH of the white albumen” or “less acidic environment” in the commercial kitchen…
Someone just yells, “Hey a**-hole, use the eggs at the back of the f’in’ walk-in next time!”
Welcome to my childhood. 😉
For ideal peeling, use eggs that are 7-10 days old. To be safe, buy your eggs a week before you plan to boil them, label the carton “For Boiling”, and stick them in the back of the fridge.
Using a (clean) needle to poke a tiny hole in the fat end of the egg also helps, allowing a small amount of steam between the egg and shell, separating the two. That’s how our grandma’s did it.
So…there you go!