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11 Things You Might Not Know About Eggs

Mental Floss logo Mental Floss 23-04-2017 Jeff Wells

11 Things You Might Not Know About Eggs © iStock 11 Things You Might Not Know About Eggs

They’re incredible, they’re edible, and if you lived in Roman times you’d also think they were magical. Here are a few facts about eggs, cooked just the way you like.

1. EGYPTIANS WERE THE FIRST TO CRACK THE EGG BUSINESS.

Around 1400 BCE, Egyptians figured out how to incubate eggs inside small underground caves. This freed up hens to lay more eggs, which proliferated through the kingdom as a food source. Egyptians also regarded eggs as sacred, and would keep baskets of them inside their temples to ensure a bountiful flood.

2. THE ROMANS INVENTED THE OMELET.

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They sweetened it with honey and called it ovemele, which literally translates to “eggs and honey.” Some say this is the origin of the word “omelet,” while others point to the French word amelette, which describes the omelet’s flat shape. The Romans also thought eggs were good luck charms, and would often line eggshells beneath their floors. Which means they were literally walking on… well, you know.

3. WE'VE BEEN DYEING EASTER EGGS FOR CENTURIES.

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In the Christian religion, eggs came to represent rebirth, and in medieval times and even before, they were often dyed red to symbolize Christ’s blood. Numerous sources claim that egg dyeing actually predates Christianity, stretching back to pagan rituals that welcomed the spring season.

4. A 19TH CENTURY EGG PROPHET RAN QUITE A CON.

In 1806, an Englishwoman named Mary Bateman convinced hundreds of people that her chicken would predict the world’s imminent end. “Christ is Coming” read the eggs that the hen laid. Bateman sold protective wards to people for a shilling apiece, but her con was exposed after a local doctor caught her shoving a handwritten egg back up into her poor hen. Bateman went on to practice medicine, and was executed for poisoning several of her patients.

5. A GENE MUTATION ALLOWS CHICKENS TO LAY EGGS YEAR ROUND.

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In wild animals, a thyroid-stimulating hormone receptor, or TSHR, gene helps regulate reproduction to specific seasons. Chickens, though, have a mutation in this gene—developed through years of selective breeding—that allows them to breed and lay eggs throughout the year.

6. CHINA LEADS THE WORLD IN EGG PRODUCTION.

The country surpassed the U.S. in egg production in 1984, and now accounts for around 40 percent of the world’s output. Those eggs may not all be legit, however, as production of fake eggs has been rampant in recent years. Made from resin, starch and other materials, the fakes are cheap to produce, and ARE quite convincing to shoppers.

7. AMERICANS EAT 250 EGGS PER YEAR.

That’s a lot of eggs, but it’s actually way down from 60 years ago, when Americans ate an average of 389 eggs each year. Growing demand for protein-rich foods, though, has worked in the egg industry’s favor, with consumption ticking upwards each year.

8. THE COLOR OF AN EGG DEPENDS ON THE BREED OF HEN.

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There’s a saying that the color of the egg reflects the color of the chicken—which isn’t entirely true. The all-white Leghorn, the most common breed of laying hen, produces white eggs, while the brown-and-red Barnevelder produces brown eggs. But there are numerous exceptions to the rule, including the speckled Olive Egger, which lays light green eggs, and the Amercaucana, which lays blue eggs.

9. THE EGG INDUSTRY WAS INCENSED AT THE “YOUR BRAIN ON DRUGS” PSA.

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In the late '80s, the Partnership for a Drug Free America ran a memorable fried egg demo on national television. “This is your brain on drugs,” a narrator’s voice intoned as the egg sizzled and cooked in the skillet. The ad, which may have been effective in the short term, polarized viewers. It also ticked off the egg industry, which disliked the connection between its signature product and a drug-addled brain.

10. THE U.S. IS ONE OF THE FEW COUNTRIES THAT WASHES ITS EGGS.

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Ever been inside a market overseas and noticed eggs sitting out, unrefrigerated? Eggshells naturally have a protective coating that keeps them fresh at room temperature. However, they can also contain harmful bacteria, which is why the U.S. and a few other countries require producers to wash eggs in a disinfecting solution before packaging them. The process wipes out bacteria along with the protective coating, which is why American eggs have to be refrigerated.

11. ENGLAND CAN CLAIM THE LARGEST EGG EVER LAID.

In 1896, a Lancashire hen squeezed out a 12-ounce egg that was 9 inches around. That world record stood for more than a century, until 2010 when Harriet, a hen owned by a cab driver in Essex, laid an egg that was 9.1 inches in circumference. All of which begs the question: What are they feeding English hens, anyway?

All images via iStock.

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