Friday, December 28, 2007
Egg v. Egg
Every now and then I like to test my own assumptions about food--in particular, about the differences between supermarket-bought "conventional" shipped-from-who-knows-where and the fresh locally-raised organic free-range and/or heirloom stuff that's supposed to be so superior to the former kind.
It's that "supposed to be" part that bothers me. There's so much emotion and romance and sentimentalism and outright hysteria surrounding food that it's hard to separate taste from psychology. We all know that the best meals you ever ate had more to do with circumstance than with the quality of the food itself--either because you were famished, or you were in a particularly charming locale, or you were eating with someone with whom you were desperately in love. And, we know that our era has inherited hundreds of years of food angst and food guilt that warps and blurs our perception of taste.
So, how to separate taste from context, wish from reality? The blind taste test is a great start.
It's really a two part test. First, can you even distinguish one item from another? If so, then the second part is: which tastes better?
Past contests have included organic whole milk (pasteurized and homogenized) vs. conventional whole milk. The result? I couldn't even distinguish between the two, much less say one was better than the other. Raw, unpasteurized milk was another story--easy as could be to tell the difference vs. conventional milk, though there's not a clear winner on taste (raw milk definitely is an acquired taste). Grass-fed beef vs. corn-fed beef: you can tell them apart a mile off. The grass-fed tastes like, well, grass, and easily beats out the conventional stuff (to my palate, at least) when it comes to texture and flavor.
This round it's eggs. In the left corner, in the brownish speckled shell, a fresh free-range all organic egg from a local farm out on Wadmalaw Island. In the right corner, in the pure white shell, a conventional grocery store egg from some hen battery somewhere. The method of cookery: hard boiled in the same pot for 15 minutes (to ensure equal cooking). Then cooled, peeled, and sliced.
The Wife tolerates these sorts of experiments of mine with the forebearance available only to those who, on a regular basis, have to do things like buckle seat belts on imaginary friends, read the same pop-up book 39 times in succession, and try to explain for the twelfth time why chanting "No cuts, no butts, no coconuts" while pointing to one's groin is not only unfunny but also quite impolite. With that unmistakable "maybe if I help him quickly he'll go away and let me read my book" demeanor, she gamely assisted in the contest.
I placed one slice of each into separate spoons then turned my back and closed my eyes and had The Wife deposit one of the slices into my mouth without telling me which one it was. I chewed pensively and concentrated my mental focus on my tongue and the roof of my mouth. Is this the free-range? Or the conventional? Does it taste stronger, firmer? Hmm . . .
A quick swig of beer to cleanse the palate, then egg number two. Okay, the texture's slightly different, but only slightly . . . tasty, but I've always loved hard-boiled eggs no matter what the type. This one was going down to the wire . . .
"Okay," I said finally. "The first one's the free-range egg, and the second one's the conventional one."
"Nope," The Wife said, almost gleefully. "The first one was the regular egg. The second one was the brown one."
So there you have it. Not only did I guess the identity wrong, I can honestly say that they tasted pretty much the same to me. Now, there are any number of explanations to take into account here. Maybe hardboiling isn't the best way to compare them (it did seem a lot cleaner than trying to, say, make an omlet or use them in some sort of complicated recipe). And maybe the free-range egg wasn't all that fresh (there was no date on the container) and if it had been snuck out from under the hen that very morning and never refrigerated maybe the taste difference would have been more dramatic.
But for now I'm calling it a draw.
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