The Food Lab: The Hard Truth About Boiled Eggs

By Dr. Mercola

Eggs are a phenomenal source of protein, fat, and other nutrients, including choline and the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. They are so good for you that you can easily eat one dozen eggs per week, which is actually a simple and cost-effective way to add valuable nutrition to your diet.

The best way to consume eggs, provided they come from a high-quality source, is to not cook them at all, which is why my advanced nutrition plan recommends eating your eggs raw.

In the beginner plan, however, eggs are still included and you can prepare them anyway you like them. While less “well done” eggs are still preferable (such as poached, soft-boiled, or over easy with very runny yolks), a hard-boiled egg makes a fine snack or source of protein for your meal.[amazon asin=B001FBCP7O&template=*lrc ad (right)]

Each egg contains about six grams of protein. When I eat hard-boiled eggs in my salad, I typically use about four of them. The problem with hard-boiled eggs is that they can be time consuming to peel, and you might even end up removing pieces of the white with the shell.

There’s also the issue of cooking – not enough time and your yolk will be runny; too long and the white will turn rubbery. If you’ve ever wondered if there’s a better way to cook and peel a hard-boiled egg, keep reading.

9 Secrets to Achieving Hard-Boiled Egg Perfection

The Food Lab column recently featured some excellent tips for creating the perfect hard-boiled egg, from cooking to peeling.1 These tips are the result of the author’s careful observations while boiling thousands of eggs in various carefully controlled conditions to determine what works best. Here’s a summary of what to do, with each step explained in detail below:2

“Lower your eggs straight from the fridge into already-boiling water, or place them in a steamer insert in a covered pot steaming at full blast on the stovetop. If boiling, lower the heat to the barest simmer. Cook the eggs for 11 minutes for hard or 6 minutes for soft.

Serve. Or, if serving cold, shock them in ice water immediately. Let them chill in that water for at least 15 minutes, or better yet, in the fridge overnight. Peel under cool running water.”

1. Older Eggs Work Better

Freshly laid eggs are more likely to stick to the shell when you try to peel them, so if you get your eggs direct from a farm (which I highly recommend), you may want to let them age for a couple of weeks before hard boiling them. If you buy your eggs at the supermarket, this is a non-issue since most will sit for 30 days or more before being packaged and consumed.

2. Eggs May Be Straight from the Fridgeor Counter

It doesn’t matter if eggs are cold (right from the fridge) or room temperature when you start the cooking process.

3. Boil the Water First (or Use Steam):

A hot start is the most important factor in creating an easy-to-peel hard-boiled egg. This is because egg white cooked slowly (while cold water is heating to a boil, for instance) will bond more strongly with the membrane inside the eggshell. According to the featured article:3

A hot start produces easier-to-peel eggs. And it doesn’t matter whether that hot start is in boiling water or in a steam-filled pot or pressure-cooker. They’re all strikingly easier to shell than those started in a cold pot.”

4. After a Quick Boil, Turn the Heat Down to a Simmer[amazon asin=B0002MR0MC&template=*lrc ad (right)]

In rapidly boiling water, the egg will cook from the outside in, which means the egg white will cook faster, possibly getting rubbery or tough. To get the best of both worlds (tender whites that are still easy to peel), plunge the eggs into boiling water for about 30 seconds, then turn the heat down to a low simmer for the remainder of the cooking (11 minutes total for hard-boiled, six minutes for soft-boiled).

5. Try Steam Cooking

An even more foolproof method may be to steam your eggs. Boil a half-inch of water in a pot, then place your eggs on a steamer insert. This results in eggs that are gently cooked, so there’s no need to turn the heat down as with boiling.

6. Avoid Pressure-Cooking or Baking Your Eggs

Pressure-cooked eggs use higher temperatures than steaming or boiling, which tends to result in tougher, rubbery whites. Baking eggs in an oven has also recently become trendy, but the featured analysis found eggs cooked in an oven were hard to peel, off-colored, and unpredictable.

7. Shock Your Eggs in Ice-Cold Water After Cooking

When your eggs are done cooking, shock them in a pot of ice water. This will lead to a perfectly rounded bottom (getting rid of the “dimple” that’s often found on the bottom of hard-boiled eggs). According to the featured article:4

When you pull the hot egg out from the pot, the yolk and white have yet to firm up completely… By shocking it, you very rapidly cause the steam that has built up inside that air pocket to convert to water, instantly dropping to about .5% of its original volume. The still-malleable boiled egg moves in to fill its place.

Let the egg cool slowly, on the other hand, and by the time that steam has cooled sufficiently, the egg is already basically set in its shape. Instead of the egg moving in to fill that space, air is drawn in through the egg shell.”

8. Chill Your Eggs Prior to Peeling

The cooler the egg, the firmer its structure will be, making it far easier to remove the peel without causing craters in the white. Ideally, chill the eggs in an ice bath for 15 minutes or in the fridge overnight prior to peeling.

9. Peel Under Running Water

The final step in the perfect hard-boiled egg? Crack the egg gently all over its surface, then peel away the shell under running water.

Why Eat Eggs? They’re Great for Your Heart Health[amazon asin=B00005KIRS&template=*lrc ad (right)]

There is a major misconception that you must avoid foods like eggs, which are high in saturated fat, to protect your heart. But I believe eggs are a nearly ideal fuel source for most of us. The evidence clearly shows that eggs are one of the healthiest foods you can eat, and can actually help prevent disease, including heart disease. For example, previous studies have found that:

  • Consumption of more than six eggs per week does not increase the risk of stroke and ischemic stroke5
  • Eating two eggs a day does not adversely affect endothelial function (an aggregate measure of cardiac risk) in healthy adults, supporting the view that dietary cholesterol may be less detrimental to cardiovascular health than previously thought6
  • Proteins in cooked eggs are converted by gastrointestinal enzymes, producing peptides that act as ACE inhibitors (common prescription medications for lowering blood pressure)7
  • A survey of South Carolina adults found no correlation of blood cholesterol levels with “bad” dietary habits, such as use of red meat, animal fats, fried foods, butter, eggs, whole milk, bacon, sausage, and cheese8

As for how to eat your eggs for optimal health, ideally, the yolks should be consumed raw, as the heat will damage many of the highly perishable nutrients in the yolk. Two raw egg yolks have antioxidant properties equivalent to half a serving of cranberries (25 grams) and almost twice as many as an apple. But the antioxidant properties are reduced by about 50 percent when the eggs are fried or boiled, and reduced even more if they’re microwaved.9

Additionally, the cholesterol in the yolk can be oxidized with high temperatures, especially when it is in contact with the iron present in the whites and cooked, as in scrambled eggs, and such oxidation contributes to chronic inflammation in your body. For this reason, scrambled eggs are one of the worst ways to prepare eggs if you want them to be healthy.

Quality Matters: How to Choose High-Quality Eggs

Free-range or “pastured” organic eggs are far superior when it comes to nutrient content, while conventionally raised eggs are far more likely to be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria such as salmonella. This is why, if you’re eating raw eggs, they MUST be organic pastured eggs.

An egg is considered organic if the chicken was only fed organic food, which means it will not have accumulated high levels of pesticides from the grains (mostly GM corn) fed to typical chickens. Ideally, the chicken should have access to the outdoors where it can consume its natural diet. Testing has confirmed that true free-range eggs are far more nutritious than commercially raised eggs. In one egg-testing project, Mother Earth News compared the official US Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs with eggs from hens raised on pasture and found that the latter typically contains:10

  • 2/3 times more vitamin A
  • 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
  • 3 times more vitamin E
  • 7 times more beta-carotene

The dramatically superior nutrient levels are most likely the result of the differences in diet between free-ranging, pastured hens and commercially farmed hens. If you’re purchasing your eggs from a supermarket, be aware[amazon asin=B00004U49X&template=*lrc ad (right)] that labels can be very deceptive. The definitions of “free-range” are such that the commercial egg industry can run industrial farm egg-laying facilities and still call them “free-range” eggs, despite the fact that the birds’ foraging conditions are far from what you’d call natural.

For example, regulations on the use of the term “free-range” do not specify the amount of time the hens must spend outdoors or the amount of outdoor space each hen must have access to. Nor do they indicate that the hen must have access to a pasture diet. True free-range eggs, now increasingly referred to as “pasture-raised,” are from hens that roam freely outdoors on a pasture where they can forage for their natural diet, which includes seeds, green plants, insects, and worms.

Large commercial egg facilities typically house tens of thousands of hens and can even go up to hundreds of thousands of hens. Obviously, they cannot allow all of them to forage freely. They can still be called “cage-free” or “free-range” though, if they’re not confined to an individual cage. But these labels say nothing about the conditions they ARE raised in, which are still deplorable.

Try Buying Your Eggs Locally

The key to finding truly free-range, pastured eggs is to buy your eggs locally. This is typically even preferable to organic eggs from the grocery store. About the only time I purchase eggs from the store is when I am travelling or for some reason I miss my local egg pickup. Finding high-quality organic eggs locally is getting easier, as virtually every rural area has individuals with chickens. If you live in an urban area, visiting the local health food stores is typically the quickest route to finding the high-quality local egg sources.

Farmers markets and food coops are another great way to meet the people who produce your food. With face-to-face contact, you can get your questions answered and know exactly what you’re buying. Better yet, visit the farm — ask for a tour. If they have nothing to hide, they should be eager to show you their operation.

You can tell your eggs are free range or pastured by the color of the egg yolk. Foraged hens produce eggs with bright orange yolks. Dull, pale yellow yolks are a sure sign you’re getting eggs form caged hens that are not allowed to forage for their natural diet. offers a helpful organic egg scorecard that rates egg manufacturers based on 22 criteria that are important for organic consumers.11 According to Cornucopia, their report [amazon asin=B001CDP5UO&template=*lrc ad (right)]”showcases ethical family farms, and their brands, and exposes factory farm producers and brands in grocery store coolers that threaten to take over organic livestock agriculture.”

Two years ago, I visited Joel Salatin at his Polyface farm in Virginia. He’s truly one of the pioneers in sustainable agriculture, and you can take a virtual tour through his chicken farm operation in the video above. Also, contrary to popular belief, fresh pastured eggs that have an intact cuticle do not require refrigeration, as long as you are going to consume them within a relatively short period of time. This is well known in many other countries, including parts of Europe, and many organic farmers will not refrigerate their eggs. One final caveat: I would strongly encourage you to avoid all omega-3 eggs, as they typically come from chickens that are fed poor-quality sources of omega-3 fats that are already oxidized. Omega-3 eggs are also more likely to perish faster than non-omega-3 eggs.

A Quick Trick for ‘Peeling’ an Egg Without Actually Peeling It

If you want to try a different method from the running-water trick mentioned above, Tim Ferris (author of the great book, The Four Hour Work Week), demonstrates how easy it is to get to a hard-boiled egg without having to peel it. Doesn’t get much easier than this… just be ready to catch the egg when it comes out!

Instructions:[amazon asin=B004LKVRLG&template=*lrc ad (right)]

  1. Cover the eggs with water and boil on low for about 12 minutes.
  2. Cool the eggs by placing them in cold water with one teaspoon of baking soda and ice. The baking soda raises the pH level and reduces adherence. If you choose not to use baking soda, be sure to move the eggs into cold water with plenty of ice immediately after boiling.
  3. Crack the top of the egg and remove a small piece.
  4. Crack the bottom (wide end) of the egg and remove a small piece.
  5. Hold the egg in your hand and blow vigorously into the narrow end of the egg, which will expel it out the wide end.

 Sources and References