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Meringue is a common food to see when shopping for desserts as it can be found in so many of them. Because of how delicious and fun it is, many people try their hand at making meringue at home, which is never a bad idea. Similar to when you bake a cake at home, you have to eat at least some of the batter. The same goes for meringue, you just cannot resist. However, as it is made with raw egg whites, is it safe to eat uncooked meringues?
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What Is Meringue?
Meringue is a common food used to decorate cakes and pavlovas. While it may be used decoratively, meringue cakes are very popular and consist of the meringue being the main base of the cake. Meringue is made from whipped egg whites and sugar and then mixed with lemon juice and occasionally a flavoring such as vanilla extract. This will leave you with a creamy batter-like substance and to make it into the proper meringue shape and texture, you must bake it.
Meringues end up looking and feeling like they do all because the proteins in the raw eggs are denatured and result in the formation of stiff peaks. Baked meringue can be easy to burn or undercooked, and due to the fragile nature of the confectionary, the slightest mistake can be quite critical. Meringue is a tough dessert to make, but once mastered it can be really impressive.
Homemade meringues differ a lot from store-bought alternatives. Meringues made at home tend to be crispy on the outside and become a tad chewier when you get to the thicker parts. Whereas store-bought meringues are crispy throughout and lack the chewy texture that the homemade ones have. This can be for a number of reasons, and it is not a good or bad thing, it all depends on how you like your meringue.
Is It Safe To Eat Uncooked Meringues?
While all traditional meringue recipes rely on the use of raw eggs, that does not mean they are unhealthy or dangerous. The dangers uncooked meringues pose are not anything too bad as long as you are cautious. As raw egg whites are used in the recipe for meringues, it can be quite alarming to think about eating them raw as eggs have a bad rep for this.
A lot of people avoid raw eggs because of the salmonella bacteria that they may carry. This is undoubtedly not something you want to ingest, although the chances of that should be pretty low. Firstly, the salmonella bacteria are mostly found in the egg yolk, not the whites. This means that there is already a decent chance that you will be fine. On top of this, salmonella is only really found in eggs that are not properly and safely farmed. A lot of health regulations declare that before a retailer can sell eggs, they must be tested to be safe. After all of the testing and inspecting, the likelihood of any eggs found in a supermarket carrying the bacteria is incredibly low.
Unless you are using eggs from your own chickens, or a local farm, the risks of eating raw or uncooked eggs are really quite minimal. Pasteurized egg whites are recommended to be used as an alternative if you plan on eating them raw, but this is unnecessary unless you are really paranoid and cautious.
As long as you are confident that your eggs are safe, you can eat meringue raw whenever you feel like it. Although, there is not too much of a reason to do so. Whether it is Swiss meringue, French meringue, or Italian meringue, the batter is nothing special. It is powdered egg whites, sugar syrup, and vanilla extract at most.
What Is Salmonella?
Salmonella is a very common bacterial disease that affects the intestinal tract. The bacteria typically lives in animal and human intestines, while being shed through feces. The most common way a human is infected is by consuming contaminated food or water.
The majority of people will experience diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. This will happen between 8-72 hours after exposure to the bacteria, although some people will have no symptoms at all. The average healthy person will easily recover within a few days without any special treatment or medication.
The most alarming part of being infected is that diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which is a big issue. Other than this, there is not too much to worry about with salmonella. The chance of getting infected increases when you travel to countries that do not have clean drinking water and also lack proper sewage disposal.
As stated, the average person will recover within days from the disease. However, if the infected person is an infant, child, elderly person, or has a weakened immune system then it is recommended they go and see a doctor if the symptoms last more than a few days. Other reasons to see a doctor include high fever, bloody stools, and serious dehydration.
How To Make Meringues
If you are wanting to make meringue topped pies, pavlova, or just meringue in general, then you will be pleasantly surprised to know that it is not insanely difficult. Although, it might take you a few tries to perfect it.
To start off, you will need 4 large eggs, 115g caster sugar, and 115g icing sugar. Optionally, you can also add some lemon juice or vanilla extract to flavor your meringue. The two types of sugar can also be substituted for your preferred sugar or sweetener.
First, you must preheat your oven to 110 degrees C. While you wait for that to heat up, now is a good time to separate your egg yolks from your egg whites. There are a lot of tools and gadgets available online to help you do this, however, it can also be done by using nothing but a plastic bottle and the trusty use of physics.
Crack your raw egg onto a plate, preferably one with a slight curve on the edges so the egg does not fall off. You will want to make sure the plastic bottle is empty and has the lid screwed off. The science behind this trick is using the bottle as a vacuum that will suck up the egg yolk but not the whites. Squeeze all of the air out of the bottle and then place the opening over your egg yolk. Gently place the opening of the bottle on top of the egg yolk so that it is barely touching, and then slowly release your grip so that the egg yolk is sucked into the bottle. While doing this, it is important to start tilting the bottle to an upright position so the egg yolk does not fall back out.
Once you have separated the egg yolk from the egg white, repeat this for the 3 other eggs you have. While they are not needed in this recipe, it is worth finding another use for the egg yolks as they are delicious and full of protein. I hear that they are also useful for making eggnog, a delicious and seasonal drink.
Now that the egg yolks and whites are separated, you will want to pour the egg whites into a bowl or mixing bowl and whip them until they turn into a fluffy cloud that grips onto the whisk and even stands on its own momentarily when you pull the whisk away. This can be done with an electric hand whisk, or manually by hand.
Once you have a bowl of whipped egg whites, add in your caster sugar one tablespoon at a time. Adding it all at once will remove the air that you have worked into the raw egg whites. You only have to keep mixing for 4-5 seconds between each addition of sugar. Once the mixture is thick and all the sugar has been added, you are ready to add the icing sugar.
To properly add the icing sugar, you will want to try and fold it into the mixture. This can be done by using a sieve to apply the icing sugar to your mixture. Once a third of your icing sugar is added, use a spatula or a big spoon and fold the icing sugar into the mixture. Once it is properly incorporated, add another third. Keep this up one final time until all the icing sugar is added. While doing this, you can also add vanilla extract to your mixture, as well as a splash of lemon juice.
Prepare a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or non-stick baking paper and using two tablespoons at once, transfer a heaped spoonful of the mixture onto the tray. Try and make them into a nice oval shape, although a rough circle will also work. The hardest part about the whole recipe is getting them to look nice and uniform.
Once you have as many meringues placed on your tray as possible, it is time to bake them. At 110 degrees C, bake them for an hour and 15 minutes. The meringues should make a nice crisp sound when tapped and should have the color of very milky coffee. After this, leave them to rest and enjoy your homemade meringues!
Should You Eat Raw Meringues?
As said, the eggs you buy at a supermarket are very unlikely to contain the salmonella bacteria so the risk is minimal. When it comes to baking food at home, it is almost an unspoken rule that you must eat at least some of the batter. At the very least, you have to lick the spoon. Doing this with meringue, like cake batter, is perfectly healthy and normal. Although, it is not so delicious that I would recommend eating it by the spoonful.