In a 6-year study that was basically a never-ending brunch.
How do you like your eggs? Fried, scrambled, a delicate poach? Cracked raw into a pint glass like Rocky Balboa? However you choose, breakfast wouldn’t be the same without them.
But in 1946, a British zoologist named Hugh B. Cott was struck with a chilling thought. What if the noble chicken were to die out from some unexpected plague, or another World War disrupted our chicken farming infrastructure? How would we get our daily egg?
From other birds, of course. And thus the Cambridge Egg Panel was born.
At first, Cott fed eggs to ferrets, rats and hedgehogs to determine which ones they preferred. But he soon realized that he needed a more nuanced way to rank the palatability of various types of egg.
The ambitious scientist assembled a tasting group of three devoted eaters and for the next 6 years dedicated his life to tracking down and cooking the eggs of 212 different bird species.
There are, obviously, a lot of birds in this world. And the eggs they lay range from the bee hummingbird’s?—?which is barely over a quarter of an inch?—?to the ostrich’s massive three pounder.
Humans already eat maybe a half dozen different kinds of eggs, but how did we settle on chicken eggs being the standard? Could there be a better egg out there that humanity just hasn’t tried? Those were Cott’s big questions, and he wanted answers.
Every week or so, he served each person on his panel a dish of scrambled eggs from a different bird. Panelists were instructed to rate the meal on a scale of 1 to 10, as well as offer verbal feedback on the flavor and texture of the egg.
After he’d exhausted every egg available to him, Cott compiled his results into a 1954 article for the Journal of Zoology.
Surprising no one, the eggs most suited to the human palate were, indeed, chicken. They ranked an 8.8. Interestingly, three other kinds of egg ranked fairly close with 8.3 averages?—?the coot, the moorhen and the lesser black-backed gull.
Duck eggs, which have been farmed for centuries, ranked rather low on the list. However, the preparation could have done them in?—?duck eggs have much higher protein in the whites, making them great for baking but not as good scrambled.
Some birds that ranked above the duck include the domestic turkey and, surprisingly, the penguin, which was described as “fine and delicate in flavor.”
The worst-tasting? The bar-headed goose’s eggs made the panel start retching. The eggs of the oyster-catcher apparently taste powerfully of onions. And the great tit’s eggs are as bad as its name?—?“salty, fishy and bitter.”
After he had his data, Cott tried to draw conclusions based on egg size and coloration. He postulated that smaller, more colorful eggs were more likely to taste bad. Cott, who had written his PhD thesis at Glasgow University on camouflage and warning coloration in frogs, was obviously looking for some common ground in his new field of study.
Needless to say, the egg industry didn’t shift away from chickens to moorhens (especially because those birds are fiercely protective of their nests). In addition to flavor and nutrition, chickens are valued farm birds because of their docility and hardiness. The fact that they eat pretty much anything put in front of them doesn’t hurt either.
At the end of the day, Hugh Cott’s experiment didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. No matter how hard you scramble them, nothing beats an egg.