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What is Albumen?

The albumen turns white when an egg is hard-boiled.
The albumen surrounds the yolk and appears clear in a raw egg.
Stiff meringue is often used as a topper on pies.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2014
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Albumen is the clear substance that surrounds the yolk of an egg. When it is beaten or cooked, it looks white and may be called an egg white, puggle, or glair. This substance is distinct from albumin, which are proteins that are water soluble and found in a variety of creatures — humans have albumin in their blood plasma for instance. Egg whites, to make matters more confusing, contain certain proteins that are dissolved in water. The typical egg white contains about 15% protein and about 85% water.

In cooking, albumen is an important element. Recipes for cakes, pancakes, and waffles often call for separating the white from the egg yolks, and beating it until it forms soft peaks. It is then folded into the recipe ingredients, creating very fluffy results. Some cakes, like the angel food cake, rely solely on whipped egg whites and don’t use the yolks at all.

Albumen proteins are elastic and tend to bond easily with other proteins. For example, when a chef whips egg whites in a copper bowl, copper atoms bond with the proteins. The whites become frothy meringue because whipping them causes the protein molecules to stretch to accommodate air whipped in.

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When whipped to create meringue, this substance is common to mousses and souffles, and it may be used in certain types of frostings. Stiff meringue can be baked into cookies or ladled onto the tops of pies. Albumen that is only slightly beaten is a common alternative to eating whole eggs. Egg white omelets are especially popular and a good way to cut down on saturated fats in the diet, because most of the saturated fat in eggs is in the yolks.

To avoid cholesterol, people may choose to use only egg whites for breakfast foods or baking. There’s actually some debate as to whether a few whole eggs a week, yolk and white, is unhealthy. Recent research suggests that yolks actually lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol, even though early understanding of cholesterol resulted in demonizing many food sources like the egg. Unless a person is dieting or attempting to lower a dramatically raised cholesterol score through diet, eating a few whole eggs a week may be healthy.

When the whites are not whipped into meringue or prepared as breakfast eggs, they can be separated from the egg yolks and used as way to glaze items baking in the oven, often called an egg wash. Manufacturers treat beer and wine with albumen to remove sedimentary deposits. It is also often listed on broth that can be bought at the store, and many recipes call for egg whites to help clarify or make the broth clear.

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shell4life
Post 6

My grandmother uses an egg wash made from albumen on her pie crusts. She uses a wash made from the entire egg on the top crust, and she puts the albumen wash on the bottom crust.

The one made from the whole egg will serve to brown the top crust and seal the edges together. The purpose of the albumen egg wash is to keep the bottom crust from getting soggy.

It works so well! It's great to bite into a slice of cherry pie that is a few days old without having the bottom fall apart.

Perdido
Post 5

I didn't know that egg whites had protein. So, when I eat a slice of chocolate pie topped with heavy meringue, I am actually getting my protein! That is an awesome excuse for indulging. I don't eat a lot of meat, but I am a sucker for pie.

seag47
Post 4

@Kristee – Do you have a small funnel? If so, try pouring the egg into it.

The yolk will be too big to go through the narrow hole, but the albumen will slide right on through. Be sure that you have a bowl underneath the funnel to catch the egg white.

A friend told me this trick, and I have been using it ever since. I never could manage to separate the albumen using just the eggshells and my hands, but some people can. I prefer to stick to the funnel method.

Kristee
Post 3
I have always had trouble separating the albumen from the yolks. Because of this, I avoid recipes that call for egg whites.

I would love to be able to make desserts like divinity and lemon meringue pie. However, I just can't seem to get the hang of dividing the albumen and the yolks.

Is there a secret trick to this? Is it something that only good cooks can do, or could anyone learn it?

turquoise
Post 2

I like to make pastries with just the egg whites. When I include the yolk, I feel that the pastries smell and taste too much like egg. It kind of takes over the whole flavor.

But when I add egg whites to add flavor and moisture in the pastry, it always turns out really good. I'm able to taste the other ingredients and not the egg.

ddljohn
Post 1

My grandmother would refuse to have milk and yogurt because she said it upset her stomach and gave her digestive problems. Instead she would have egg whites every day. It's not common knowledge, but albumen is actually rich in calcium.

I think even if people don't want to have eggs to control their cholesterol, they can always boil eggs, separate the yolk from the whites and have the whites for extra calcium and protein.

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