In college, on Sunday mornings after a night of marathon drinking in dorm rooms and sticky fraternity basements, I’d shuffle into the dining hall hungover and disoriented. I carried my plastic tray and water-stained cutlery, letting the breakfast smells wash over me. I’d venture past the waffle iron, multi-colored cereal bins, and sizzling bacon, and make a beeline for my breakfast promised land: the chafing tray filled with scrambled eggs made from egg powder.
Eggs have always been a comfort food for me. Growing up, my grandfather would make the most delicious eggs for breakfast when we’d visit. Though his touch could never quite be replicated, from a young age this instilled in me that eggs were my breakfast go-to meal. And so it made sense that, in search of succor for my abused liver, I headed toward the beacon of scrambled eggs. However; the cafeteria’s version were not eggs in the traditional sense—though I didn’t know it at the time.
I didn’t realize that the cafeteria’s version wasn’t made from a carton of eggs, but from a jar of egg powder powdered eggs. But there were subtle differences. The consistency was off: more an amorphous blob than the classic Rorschach blot-like shape of a good scramble. Their color was a pale yellow, just a few shades too light to be natural. And even the taste, though eggy and satisfying, was a bit less nuanced. These were definitely not farm fresh.
To accommodate demand, the kitchen staff made eggs in massive quantities using egg powder, rather than cracking shells and whisking yolks. Powdered eggs are just more efficient for feeding many, many hungover students.
Packaged in large cans that can serve close to 100 people, egg powder is typically sold in bulk to large operations like the military, college cafeterias and low-end diners. They’re made by spraying droplets of liquid egg whites and yolk through a processor. When the mist is met with hot air, it immediately turns into a fine powder that can have a shelf live of up to fifteen years. Then the air tight, sealed packets just need water to reanimate, similar to oatmeal, or gremlins.
Even though at the time I knew something was amiss, none of that bothered me. My friends would marvel as I’d heap mountains of eggs on my plate, happily scarfing them down with my glass of chocolate milk. There was just something about the egg facsimile that satisfied the equal parts churning pit and bottomless wrathful hole of my hungover stomach. My college friends never understood my obsession and even to explain it today, people’s first reaction is disgust, but I stand by their just-add-water wonders.
If I were asked to write the marketing copy for egg powder, I’d describe it thusly: “Like eggs that don’t try too hard, they are delicious in their simplicity.” “The bluntness of the taste confronts you like a brisk hug, the warmth softening its embrace.” In short, they’re business-like eggs. They get the job done.
Since graduating college I’ve rarely encountered powdered eggs in culinary establishments. For something made in such large quantities so cheaply, they are an uncommon commodity in most restaurants. Most often, egg powder is marketed to survivalists, campers, and those who think The Walking Dead is a plausible scenario.
I guess that’s why, as a lifelong indoor kid, it wasn’t until almost a year ago, when I was traveling with my family in Napa, CA, that I encountered them again. On our second day staying at a chain hotel with breakfast included I awoke hazy, head buzzing from the previous day of wine tasting. Disheveled and tired I made my way downstairs to the continental breakfast, past the freshly poured pancake mix, neatly stacked jams, and small boxes of cereal. There they were, illuminated like the Ark of the Covenant beneath the glowing heating lamps, piled high in monochromatic mounds. I took a generous helping, dug in, and savored every bite. It tasted a lot like eggs.