Over the past seven millenniums bird eggs have nested in the human dietary pyramid as a substantial component of meals in virtually every culture. Long before the Greeks got chickens from the Egyptians, hunters and gatherers and early Asian and Indian populations had already discovered this compact food source.
Now it's a breakfast staple in America and appears throughout the rest of the day in quiche for lunch, pasta at dinner and those cookies baked for an evening snack. This little spheroid is also feared by many as the root of high cholesterol and heart disease. Separating the fact from the myth is almost, literally, like separating the yolk from the egg white.
Regarding cholesterol, the American Egg Board is broadcasting the fact that cholesterol levels in eggs have dropped over the past few years from 215 mg to 185 mg. While this is good news, it isn't necessarily the natural cholesterol level in the egg that is a problem. In actuality, the body absorbs very little cholesterol directly from foods. The calories from fat (50 percent) in the yolk, however, are the levels to watch. Egg whites are 87 percent water and 13 percent protein with no cholesterol or fat.
T-L Photos/GLYNIS VALENTI
Emilie Freeman, egg artist, demonstrates one of the last procedures in the decorating process: removing the wax and unveiling the finished egg.
It has been determined that eggs do not cause heart disease. Harvard Medical School says that there is no correlation between heart disease and eggs-except in diabetics, where studies show an increased risk. Eating egg whites, egg substitutes or limiting the number of eggs eaten per week will lower that risk.
The chicken egg is a high quality, natural source of protein and all the amino acids humans need. It contains vitamins A and E, the B vitamins and is one of the few foods with natural vitamin D. At about 70 calories per large egg, it is a good choice for weight loss programs. The choline in egg yolks contributes to infant memory functions when taken during pregnancy, and improves memory in adults. The yolk also contains natural substances called lutein and zeaxanthin that reduce the risks of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
The bottom line is that the average person (not diabetic) can probably eat one egg per day, while cutting back on saturated fats in other foods, without adverse affects and, in fact, will probably benefit. Incidentally, most bird eggs taste nearly the same and are relatively bland. What would most likely change the flavor of the egg itself is the individual bird's diet, for instance fish as opposed to seeds.
The beauty of the egg is not only in its nutrition for humans. They vary in shapes, sizes and colors. They protect little beings from the elements and, in the cases of camouflage colors, predators. The shells are actually porous, allowing baby birds to breathe. An average chicken egg has 7500 pores.
The largest egg from a living bird is that of a North African ostrich with an average length of six to eight inches and a diameter of four to six inches. The smallest bird egg comes from a Jamaican hummingbird, the vervain, and is between one-third and one-half inch long.
Many cultures have used the egg in traditional rituals, even long before Christianity. Pagans used the egg as a symbol of springtime and rebirth. The egg is part of the Jewish Passover celebration as a symbol of life and hope of salvation. The Chinese give family and friends dyed red eggs to announce a birth, and Japanese parents decorate eggs with likenesses of their children. Easter is generally the time that Christians dye eggs, originally representing the resurrection, for baskets and decoration.
Locally, artist Emilie Freeman has been creating one-of-a-kind Pysanka eggs for 38 years. This Ukrainian tradition began before 988 AD and involves intricate designs in melted beeswax layered with a series of colored dyes. The designs and colors are symbolic, so the artist can give them as messages or tokens of goodwill. Yellow represents light, youth and hospitality; blue represents the sky, air or good health. One of Freeman's favorite symbols is small dots, representing the Virgin Mary's tears, but a recurring pattern in her work is the "star" or "rose." Symbolically it represents "God's love for man," but she says she likes the pattern's style.
From a how-to brochure on Pysanka Freeman reads, "'Pysanka is the release of earth from the shackles of winter. As long as the Pysanka are decorated, goodness will triumph over evil in the world.'" She laughs, "That's why I do it-to keep goodness in the world." She also says that it's a constant experiment and those trying the art should just have fun with it.
Freeman will be teaching Pysanka classes this month at the Polish American Club in Maynard. For more information contact Annmarie Gaddulla at (740) 635-3537.
Deviled, fried or painted, no need to be wary of the "incredible, edible" egg. It's been part of human meals and rituals for thousands of years, a symbol of spring and new life.