by Maria Minnaar
reprinted with permission from
Emu Today & Tomorrow
Reprinted with permission from Emu Today & Tomorrow
1-888-474-6397 toll-free (580)628-2933
If you were stranded on a desert island and a genie suddenly appeared, and said, "I will give you one source of food - but only one - to survive on, during your entire stay here. Choose wisely." - what food would you pick? Meat? Fruit? Bread? A vegetable?
Pick any of those, and after a few months, you would most likely be suffering from malnutrition. In fact, there are very few foods that can indeed provide everything the body needs rolled into one package. But there is one food that comes pretty close. After all, it provides everything that a tiny scrap of embryo needs to grow from a cluster of cells into a full-fledged chick. We are talking about that marvel of nature, the pretty little elliptical lunch box that is not only packed with nutrients, but also comes complete with a weatherproof, yet biodegradable protective outer covering. We are talking about Nature's perfect food:
Most egg research done over the last few decades has focused on the chicken egg, since chickens are the most commonly raised fowl in the U. S. and elsewhere in the world. Historically, however, chickens have not been part of the world food picture for very long. Eggs, however, have. Up to about 300 years ago, the Maoris of New Zealand feasted on giant moa eggs, which could weigh up to 8 lbs. Larger still were the eggs laid by the giant elephant birds of Madagascar, which had a volume of 2 gallons and could weigh as much as 20 lbs.. The bushman of South Africa still eat ostrich eggs - the largest egg of any bird alive today, weighing in at about 3 pounds. People around the world also eat goose eggs, turkey eggs, quail eggs and eggs of whatever birds happen to be in plentiful supply in their location. In some parts of America as well as in their native country, Australia, that includes emu eggs.
The chart below, which is taken from The Emu
Farmer's Handbook, Volume 2 by Maria Minnaar, shows the different egg weights
and measurements between eggs from the group of large, non-flying birds known as
Emu eggs, which weigh over a pound and have a volume of about ten chicken eggs, are dark green in color. This unusual appearance, coupled with the fact that different layers of the shell are progressively lighter green, makes emu eggshells sought after by egg decorators and egg carvers, who can produce striking "egg art" with a cameo like effect by using the natural colors of these layers. According to Tixier (1945), the green pigment of the emu egg is the methyl ester of biliverdin Xla.
What about the egg contents - are they green too? To the disappointment of anyone who has ever read Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham", the inside of an emu egg looks about like the inside of any other egg, with a yolk that is yellow (sometimes a little paler yellow than chicken egg yolk) and a normal, translucent egg-white - again, like chicken egg, but slightly more viscous because it contains less water - 67% versus 75%. One noticeable difference between emu eggs and chicken eggs is that in the emu egg, the yolk is huge. Chicken eggs (excluding shell) contain about 65% white, 35% yolk. Emu eggs, by comparison, contain 55% white, 44% yolk. This is not surprising, considering that an emu egg is designed to feed a developing chick for a 50 - 56 day incubation period (versus only 21 days for the chicken) and considering the fact that most of an egg's nutrients - fats, vitamins, minerals and proteins - are concentrated in the yolk.
With the realization that egg yolk - any egg yolk - does contain a lot of fat as well as some cholesterol, and that these two nutrients are supposedly bad for us, should we be willing to try emu eggs? Should we eat any eggs at all?
Actually, all animal products contain cholesterol. It's just a function of being animal. The "bad press" that cholesterol has received is due to the fact that people with high levels of cholesterol in their blood were found to be more likely to suffer from cardiovascular diseases than those with lower levels. An assumption was then made that eating foods high in cholesterol would lead to raised cholesterol levels in the blood. Actually, it now appears that it is the consumption of too much saturated fat, rather than too much cholesterol, that leads to high blood cholesterol levels.
With this in mind, let's take a closer look at both emu eggs and chicken eggs. (Chicken egg values are from the Agricultural Research Service, USDA, 1994. Emu egg values are from a recent American Emu Association funded study done by the Food Protein Research & Development Center of Texas A & M University in March/April 1998).
Chicken eggs contain about 0.43% cholesterol; emu eggs, about .089%. Although slightly higher in emu eggs, this is not a significant difference.
The chart below shows total water, protein, lipids (fats) and cholesterol in
emu eggs compared with chicken eggs.
Since the emu egg has a greater quantity of yolk compared with white than the chicken egg, as well as less water overall, the amount of fat (percentage-wise) is also greater. Of course, most people are not going to eat a whole emu egg in one sitting, and, in addition, many emu egg chefs add a little extra water to their dishes to compensate for the fact that the emu eggs do not contain as much water as chicken eggs.
From a health perspective, the issue that is more important than the total
amount of fat present in the egg, is what that fat consists of. Are the
fatty acids mostly saturated (bad fats), or mostly unsaturated (good fats)?
Fig. 1.2 compares the fatty acid composition of emu eggs with chicken eggs.
Note that recent research shows that the percentage of essential fats in eggs can be increased simply by increasing the source of essential fats in the birds' diet. This is true both for chickens and for emus.
Thus, birds that are fed flax seed in their diet, which is very rich in the omega-3 essential fat alpha-linolenic acid, will lay eggs that contain more of this essential fat. Another omega-3 fat, docosahexaenoic acid or DHA, can also be increased in eggs, by adding a DHA-rich algae product to the laying feed. This is the direction that emu farmers who are marketing their eggs for human consumption will probably want to take, to add yet more health value to their already healthy products.
A study has already been done to determine the effects on blood cholesterol in people who were asked to eat two omega-3 enriched chicken eggs per day for six weeks, in addition to their normal diet. This may come as a shock for some - but eating these eggs (that's a total of 84 eggs in six weeks!) actually LOWERED the cholesterol levels of all individuals in the study by an average of 10 points!!
The amino acids which make up the proteins in emu eggs are fairly similar to those found in chicken eggs, except for some differences in quantity. This may help explain the fact that emu egg white behaves a little differently to chicken egg white upon cooking: instead of turning a solid white color with a rubbery consistency, cooked emu egg white is bluish-white, slightly more translucent and has a more spongy texture. However, it will "meringue", although it may take a little longer to do so than chicken egg whites.
The table below shows the different amino acid compositions of the protein found in emu eggs compared with chicken eggs. Whole eggs were used in this study, since proteins are found both in the yolk and in the white.
The important thing to note is that both emu eggs and chicken eggs contain all eight of the essential amino acids needed in human nutrition.
What our taste buds have told us for years, medical science now has to agree with: eggs are good for us. However, we can make eggs even better for us if we give our laying birds (whether emus or chickens) a healthier diet.
Finally the packaging of our "perfect lunch box" deserves some mention. thanks to the unique structure of their egg shells, chicken eggs can be kept for weeks in cool conditions (e. g. the refrigerator) without losing much, if any, of their nutritional value. with emu eggs, which are larger and thicker-shelled, that storage period can actually stretch into months, if the eggs are kept cold enough (just above freezing). However, trials still need to be done to confirm safe storage times.
With all this in mind, I know exactly what I would ask my desert-island genie for.....Emu Eggs.
Maria Minnaar (Author/Publisher)