We’ve been alternately laughing at the memes and crying about the price of eggs along with everyone else, but when we heard a recent NPR story on alternatives to fresh eggs, amongst the baker’s dozen of various vegan egg substitutes was a note about something we thought was long gone after its wartime heyday — dried eggs.
Can they possibly be delicious? Are they even safe?
You’ll never get sunny-side up out of freeze-dried eggs, but as long as they spend a couple of minutes carefully stirring to rehydrate the powder, most taste-testers on social media find them surprisingly close to freshly scrambled eggs, although some note they’re reminiscent of a hotel buffet.
Idaho farmer Ron Kern told NPR that Back Forty Farms can’t keep their dried eggs in stock, not because of diminished supply, but because they sell out as soon as they’re listed. In response to customer demand, he decided to put their freeze-dryers to use to make fresh eggs appropriate for long-term storage.
TODAY.com caught up with Kern, too, to ask who’s buying dried eggs, and how he makes them. Kern says that although a lot of people are buying them to guard against supply chain bumps and shortages, they’ve also had increasing sales from people looking for easy hiking and camping meals more interesting than, well, gorp. They’re willing to pay more, too, about $20 for 8 to 9 eggs.
As for the method, “What we put in the freeze-dryer is raw,” says Kern. “We separate the shell, the machine freezes it to -23 to -40 degrees, and then it starts a slow reheating process that removes the moisture.” This mechanism, Kern points out, is fundamentally different from a process that’s often confused with it: dehydration. His farm’s wall of freeze-dryers quickly takes the food out of the 40-to-140-degree danger zone for bacterial growth, and removing the water completely all but eliminates the possibility of that growth as long as it’s dry.
On the other hand, dehydration is a long, slow process of partial water removal, often done at temperatures smack dab in the danger zone. In addition to increased risk of food borne illness, that has implications for flavor and texture; think about the difference between sticky fruit leather and the crispy freeze-dried strawberries in your morning cereal.
We found a lot of listings from small farms using freeze-dryers to preserve eggs for sale online. Although these direct sellers are unregulated at the federal level, freeze-dryer manufacturer Harvest Right says that its home model can prepare eggs safely and preserve their nutritional quality for up to 25 years when proper handling methods are followed. The company's spokesperson told us that they recommend pre-freezing the eggs so they don’t end up spattered inside from the air flow in the machine, and that’s an extra temperature control measure, too.
But we also found some seller listings describing their eggs as dehydrated, and several tutorials and TikToks purporting to show methods of drying eggs using a countertop or even homemade dehydrator. That may be low-risk for more acidic foods like fruits, but for cracked eggs, the FDA recommends heating to 160 F to prevent illnesses like salmonella. Few home dehydrators are capable of reaching that temperature. The time it takes to dry raw egg fully could leave your breakfast ramping up contamination levels for hours.
Another strike against dehydrated eggs? It’s much harder to get them finely ground, so you may find their cooked texture to be clumpy and gritty.
Regardless of the method, freeze-drying and dehydrating only put microbes in a state of suspended animation. It’s still important to cook raw eggs thoroughly before eating. And an FDA spokesperson told us they are “not aware of any validated process that consumers can use to safely dehydrate or freeze-dry eggs at home,” so it’s always buyer beware from that standpoint. If you’d like to understand what processes a seller is required to follow when they prepare items for sale, check state and local regulations before buying.
A lot of us are looking to keep a backup pantry of some kind after a few years of uneven supplies, but can you safely dehydrate eggs at home and make a fluffy omelet a decade from now?
We wouldn’t bet the farm on it.