Did you know that you can cook an egg without heat? Cooking occurs when proteins are denatured, so any process that produces a chemical change in protein can cook food. Here’s a simple science project that demonstrates you can cook an egg in alcohol. The resulting egg resembles one that has been hard boiled.
Basically, all you need for this cooking chemistry project is a raw egg and alcohol:
- Raw egg
For the alcohol, you can use vodka, 151 rum, or any other high-proof ethanol that is fit for human consumption. The higher the alcohol percentage or proof, the faster the chemical reaction and cooking occurs. While the egg will cook using other types of alcohol (denatured alcohol, rubbing alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, methanol), these types of alcohol are toxic and the cooked egg will be inedible.
Here’s how to cook the egg:
- Pour the alcohol into a glass or other small container.
- Crack the egg and place it in the alcohol. Make certain the egg is completely covered by the liquid.
- Wait for the egg to cook. After the egg white whitens, allow more time for the yolk to cook.
Depending on the percentage of alcohol, the reaction takes at least an hour. The egg would cook a lot more quickly if you boiled it the regular way; you have to wait for the alcohol to work its way into the egg.
The egg cooked in alcohol is edible, but it contains a high concentration of alcohol. If you choose to eat it, probably its best use is in a cocktail.
How It Works
The egg white consists mostly of the protein albumin. Within a few minutes of adding the egg to the alcohol, the translucent egg white starts to turn cloudy. The alcohol participates in a chemical reaction, denaturing or changing the conformation of the protein molecules so they can form new linkages with each other. As the alcohol diffuses into the egg white, the reaction proceeds and the egg white turns white.
The egg yolk contains some protein, but also a lot of fat, which is not as affected by the alcohol. Within 1 to 3 hours, depending mainly on alcohol concentration, the egg white is white and solid and the egg yolk is firm.
Cooking also kills nasty disease-causing pathogens that could cause food poisoning. Alcohol, like heat, is an excellent disinfectant.
More Ways to Cook Without Heat
Alcohol is not the only chemical that can cook food without heat. For example, you can cook an egg in vinegar. This reaction, called pickling, results from the acetic acid in the vinegar. Acetic acid lowers the pH in food to 4.6 or lower, killing more bacteria. The low pH and exclusion of air promotes fermentation by a Lactobacillus bacteria. The bacteria produce lactic acid that preserves the food. Pickling changes the flavor and texture of food.
Salt or brine preserves food by changing the osmotic pressure. This deters microbial growth, plus the process seasons food and enhances tenderness. Brining is often combined with pickling.
- Kenji López-Alt, J. (2015). The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0393081084.
- McGee, Harold (2004). On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York: Scribner. ISBN 0-684-80001-2.
- Rhee, M.S.; Lee, S.Y.; Dougherty, R.H.; Kang, D.H. (2003). “Antimicrobial effects of mustard flour and acetic acid against Escherichia coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes, and Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium”. Appl Environ Microbiol. 69 (5): 2959–63. doi:10.1128/aem.69.5.2959-2963.2003