Boiling an egg sounds like a simple cooking task, but anyone who’s boiled an egg knows, you don’t always get the exact result you require. Now you may wonder why a Quantum Physicist would waste his time on boiling eggs? The answer is simple because breakfast is undeniably a science
That’s precisely why physics Miłosz Panfil from the Institute of Theoretical Physics at the University of Warsaw in Poland designed a calculator that works out the precise boiling time of eggs. The Omni Calculator can solve small math problems that we deal with day to day like preparing a perfect boiled egg.
Home cooks and chefs have their own techniques and methods on how to prepare a perfectly boiled egg, but Panfil explained there are many things to consider when it comes to cooking eggs.
For instance, when we go higher above sea level, the air pressure lowers, and the boiling point of water decreases. It’s impossible to make a hard-boiled egg on Mt. Everest because the air pressure and altitude above sea level affect how the egg will turn out. Especially the water temperature. That’s why Panfil included altitude in his calculator.
Eggs are relatively complicated to cook. The yolks and whites contain different fats and proteins, and cook at different rates, with the whites needing less heat to set than the yolks. That’s why a soft-boiled egg, with a firm white and a soft yolk, requires lower temperature or shorter cooking time than you would need for a hard-boiled egg.
Panfil said that the inspiration for his calculator came from Omni’s “bring a bit of science into our daily lives” concept. “It’s quite exciting that the complicated process of egg-cooking can be packaged into a small calculator that everyone can use”
The Omni calculator, adds the size, altitude and thermal reading of the egg before it is submerged in the water into account. This is because liquid boils when the internal vapor pressure equals atmospheric pressure. When the atmospheric pressure is lower, the boiling point will be lower too, and it will take the egg longer to cook at higher altitudes.
Altitude is never taken into consideration but is of great importance hence the reason the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service created an information sheet about it. When the atmospheric pressure gets less at higher altitudes, the air thins and the boiling point of water is lower.
For this very reason, you can’t boil an egg on Everest, as water’s 70 degrees boiling point is too low. And it’s the same reason your blood and saliva will start to boil if you were ejected into space without a space suit.
Panfil’s calculator relies on keeping a stable temperature, which may be difficult to maintain on a stovetop. It sets the maximum temperature between the white and yolk for the perfect soft-boiled egg at sixty-five degrees Celsius, and the maximum temperature for the perfect hard-boiled egg at seventy-seven degrees Celsius.
If the heat is any higher, the hydrogen sulfide in the white will combine with ferrous sulfide in the yolk, and it will produce that greenish coating you sometimes see on hard-boiled eggs. If you have a kitchen thermometer, you can experiment with different heat settings on your burners to find the sweet spot at which it hits max temperature. But, like most cooking, you’re probably going to see success by merely experimenting and getting it wrong, so you figure out the best way that works for you.
And if it doesn’t work, you can get little extra help from this calculator by Altitude.org, also based on Williams’s work.
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