Why whip egg whites in copper bowls?

Abstract

Foams of chicken egg albumen have been an important element in Western cuisine for at least 300 yr1; they lower the density of such otherwise ponderous preparations as soufflés and sponge cakes, and in the heat-annealed form known as meringues they support or crown various sucrose-rich mixtures2. The raw protein foam is delicate and easily ruined by overheating. Over the past 200 yr, protocols for the production of albumen foams have frequently specified the use of copper reaction vessels3–5. In keeping with the line of thought that holds culinary practice to be worthy of philosophical and scientific analysis6–8, we have investigated the nature and consequences of the copper protocol. We report here that copper utensils reduce the danger of overheating albumen foams, and propose that the mechanism involves the metal-binding protein, conalbumin (ovotransferrin).

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McGee, H., Long, S. & Briggs, W. Why whip egg whites in copper bowls?. Nature 308, 667–668 (1984). https://doi.org/10.1038/308667a0

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