You can't un-ring a bell and you can't un-boil an egg. At least not until now. But researchers at UC Irvine say they've figured a way to return hard-boiled egg whites to something like their clear, original form.
It's not something that has any immediate benefits for home cooks — in fact, it would take a kitchen full of equipment to do it — but it does have important implications for other fields, including food processing and even cancer treatment.
"Yes, we have invented a way to unboil a hen egg," said Gregory Weiss, UCI professor of chemistry and molecular biology and biochemistry in a news release. The research was published last week in the journal ChemBioChem.
Weiss and his team cooked an egg at 195 degrees for 20 minutes (probably over-cooked, snooty cooks might say). They then succeeded in taking that hard, plasticky egg white and returning it to a liquid, clear form.
When an egg is boiled, the protein in the egg white changes shape from tightly wound individual clumps to long tangled strands. This is why a raw egg white is clear while a cooked egg white appears solid — the tangled strands don't allow light to pass through.
To return those proteins to their original form, Weiss and his team first added a chemical that turned the solid back into a liquid. Then they used a high-powered machine developed by Australian scientists that is called a vortex fluid device to disentangle those stuck-together protein strands.
The object of the research wasn't the eggs themselves, but those proteins. Being able to separate tangled proteins could be a huge boon for scientists.
"It's not so much that we're interested in processing the eggs; that's just demonstrating how powerful this process is," Weiss said in the release. "The real problem is there are lots of cases of gummy proteins that you spend way too much time scraping off your test tubes, and you want some means of recovering that material."
Older methods for doing that could take as many as four days. "The new process takes minutes," Weiss said. "It speeds things up by a factor of thousands."