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Scrambled Eggs and Salt?

cowgirlthunder Feb 8, 2009 10:51 AM

I know there have been a TON of threads about the "perfect" scrambled eggs, be they light and fluffy or creamy and delicious...However, I've only found a smattering of answers to my question, within those threads, so I figured I'd post it and see what happens.

My question is this...What affect does salt have on scrambled eggs? What difference does it make if you salt them when they're just cracked into the bowl, while they're on the stove, or once they're cooked and on the plate?

I haven't been able to find any definitive answers on the boards or by Googling, so...What do you think? Which do you do? Salt before, during, or after cooking?

  1. todao Feb 8, 2009 10:54 AM

    I add salt just before serving; and I use coarse salt. I do that because I want to enjoy (and share with my guests) the pleasure of that burst of salt flavor that results from biting into the salt crystals rather than having the salt absorbed into solution within the finished eggs.
    Although it's not a strong influence on why I cook scrambled eggs the way I do, I also believe (but have no scientific evidence to support my belief) that adding salt too early tends to make it more difficult to control the texture of the eggs - because salt absorbs moisture at the same time it's evaporating from the cooking eggs.

    1 Reply
    1. re: todao
      cowgirlthunder Feb 8, 2009 12:13 PM

      Thank you :) Very informative answer, todao! Much appreciated!

    2. i
      irishnyc Feb 8, 2009 10:56 AM

      I salt after because I've been told, with no evidence to back it up, that salt makes scrambled eggs tough.

      1. Demented Feb 8, 2009 10:56 AM

        On Good Eats a while back, it was mentioned that adding salt before cooking results in either tougher or dryer eggs, I don't recall exactly.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Demented
          scubadoo97 Feb 8, 2009 11:44 AM

          I've heard this but haven't found it true. I've done them both ways and will continue to add salt to the eggs before cooking since I can't tell any difference in texture but like the taste of the presalted better

          1. re: scubadoo97
            cowgirlthunder Feb 8, 2009 12:14 PM

            This is pretty much where I'm at right now too. I salt them before or during cooking because that's what I've always done, but I might be swayed if I find some evidence of a real difference ;)

            1. re: cowgirlthunder
              lynnlato Feb 9, 2009 05:48 AM

              After having read the scrambled eggs threads, I changed how I make my eggs and I'm MUCH happier. I was looking for the perfect wet, creamy scrambled eggs technique and found it on CH. Several folks had mentioned not to salt them before cooking. I've tried it both ways and I've found no discernable difference. Being the salt addict that I am, I now salt before and after with kosher salt.

        2. c
          chefkef Feb 8, 2009 11:19 AM

          Sex without sin is like an egg without salt.

          2 Replies
          1. re: chefkef
            cowgirlthunder Feb 8, 2009 12:11 PM

            lol! Funny, but irrelevent, being that I'm asking about eggs *with* salt, not eggs without salt.

            1. re: cowgirlthunder
              c
              chefkef Feb 8, 2009 05:46 PM

              Sorry to get off topic : ). Just reminding everyone how important salt is with eggs. I salt the eggs while I whisk them it helps to evenly disperse the salt so you don't get one really salty bite. Also I feel the abrasive characteristic of salt help with the mixing process.

          2. p
            phantomdoc Feb 8, 2009 11:47 AM

            I salt when mixing the eggs with some milk. Stir constantly over low heat and they get creamy.

            1. Veggo Feb 8, 2009 12:20 PM

              I put enough warm fresh tomato-habanero salsa on my cheesy eggs that I wouldn't notice the salt. And I love salt. I salt ham.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Veggo
                cowgirlthunder Feb 8, 2009 05:33 PM

                Yikes! Ham is pretty darned salty, lol!

                I've also heard people say that if you use cheese in your eggs, you have no need for salt at all. The cheese is salty/flavorful enough ;)

                1. re: cowgirlthunder
                  Shane Greenwood Feb 8, 2009 05:47 PM

                  Depends on the cheese too. Parmesean is plenty salty, so need to add salt if you're using that. If I'm melting in a little brie or chevre, I'll still add some salt but not as much.

              2. paulj Feb 8, 2009 06:02 PM

                It should be an easy thing to test for yourself.

                I rarely salt eggs before cooking. For one thing it is an extra step; for another I don't have an idea of how much to use. In practice I add some salt during cooking, usually a shake or pinch for 2 eggs; more by feel and intuition than measure. Then I adjust at the table.

                Often when cooking eggs just for myself I break them directly into the pan, so there isn't a 'before cooking' stage. Also I like to add flavorings like bacon, cheese, even cooked vegies, which may bring their own salt to the party.

                Other variables like temperature, speed, are you aiming for soft and custardy, layered, or large firm curds. If you want the softest possible curds you might worry whether the salt toughens the eggs or not. I like some texture, so that isn't a worry.

                In general, most foods benefit from salting during cooking. This salt spreads throughout the dish. Salt right at the end, or at the table, is more concentrated at the surface. So some bites will taste well salted, others under.

                6 Replies
                1. re: paulj
                  cowgirlthunder Feb 8, 2009 06:38 PM

                  I would love to test it myself, but I currently live in a dorm room without a kitchen. :) This website and others are the only way I'm surviving without having withdrawal from being unable to cook! Thanks for your response, paulj!

                  1. re: cowgirlthunder
                    Phoo_d Feb 10, 2009 12:05 PM

                    An electric skillet and hot pot can cook up all kinds of things in a dorm room (including eggs!) It's the only way I survived.

                    Phoo-D
                    http://www.phoo-d.com

                  2. re: paulj
                    ipsedixit Feb 9, 2009 07:44 AM

                    This would almost be impossible to do.

                    It would be almost impossible to make scrambled eggs two different times in the EXACT same way except for the addition of salt. Two many variables to account for -- e.g. freshness of eggs, heat, the cooking process etc.

                    1. re: ipsedixit
                      paulj Feb 9, 2009 09:12 AM

                      You could still test this at home. If the results are inconclusive, it means that salt has less effect than the other variables. There's nothing wrong with that kind of test result.

                      Dorm cooking might even be a better of way of testing this. Beat 2 eggs, add salt, and microwave, stopping once or twice to stir. Repeat with 2 more eggs from the same carton, without salting, using the same times. With less stirring, the effect of salt on the egg proteins might even be clearer.

                      One reason I say this should be easy to test at home is that you can cook small batches of eggs quickly. It's not like testing different ways of cooking an expensive beef roast, or making bread.

                      1. re: paulj
                        BobB Feb 9, 2009 09:22 AM

                        It has been tested, and the results show that adding salt (or a bit of something acetic) makes for more tender eggs, not less. See the link to the Cook's Illustrated tests that Karl S provides a few posts below this.

                    2. re: paulj
                      m
                      MazDee Feb 9, 2009 06:33 PM

                      Paulj, you said "Often when cooking eggs just for myself I break them directly into the pan" and I thought I was the only one who did that! I make scrambled eggs for myself at least once a week and love them. I melt a little butter into a non-stick, drop in 2 eggs, salt them with course sea salt and ground pepper, and let the whites cook for a moment before stirring everything around with a rubber spatula. In my eggs, there are white and yellow parts. The best! But for guests, I do the conventional way, and add the salt when I mix the eggs.

                    3. Bryn Feb 8, 2009 07:51 PM

                      I add before because I don't notice a difference, but some of the proteins in eggs are salt soluble and it can affect the texture during cooking. Depends on how picky you are.

                      15 Replies
                      1. re: Bryn
                        cowgirlthunder Feb 9, 2009 05:42 AM

                        How exactly does it affect the texture, in your opinion? :)

                        1. re: cowgirlthunder
                          Bryn Feb 9, 2009 03:49 PM

                          I think it should make tougher eggs, but don't quote me on that. I would have to read some scientific articles to be positive.

                          Edit: Yes I'm feeling more confident after looking at some textbooks. The proteins would dissolve and as they cooked pile together more closely than if they hadn't dissolved thus making tougher eggs.

                          1. re: Bryn
                            cowgirlthunder Feb 9, 2009 07:28 PM

                            Thank you, Bryn!

                            1. re: cowgirlthunder
                              Bryn Feb 9, 2009 09:05 PM

                              You're welcome. Sometimes it's hard for me to take the stuff I learn in my food science classes and apply it to cooking.

                              1. re: Bryn
                                BobB Feb 10, 2009 04:27 AM

                                You should check out the link KarlS provides a few posts below. Theory aside, it's been empirically proven that adding salt before cooking makes scrambled eggs more tender. The argument is over. Larousse Gastronomique wins.

                                1. re: BobB
                                  cowgirlthunder Feb 11, 2009 01:53 PM

                                  But WHY? I don't understand the science behind it myself and until I understand it, I'll continue to question it. I don't see why the theory that Bryn provided is any better or worse than the Cook's Illustrated theory. Which is correct? I don't think there's a winner or a loser here, BobB. I just want an answer, with decent factual evidence to back it up. :)

                                  1. re: cowgirlthunder
                                    BobB Feb 11, 2009 02:05 PM

                                    But Cook's Illustrated didn't theorize, they tested. And proved. Quod erat demonstrandum.

                                    I can understand you wanting to know the scientific explanation for why this is the case - I'm curious myself - but once it's been demonstrated that it IS the case, as has now happened, then "why" is really the only question remaining, there is no more "whether."

                                    We don't understand how gravity works, but that doesn't mean that things fall up. ;-)

                            2. re: Bryn
                              paulj Feb 9, 2009 09:51 PM

                              I don't understand this bit about proteins dissolving? In what? What does that have to do with salt?

                              Ramsey's claim that salt breaks down the eggs doesn't make sense either. What does it mean to 'break down'.

                              McGee and Corriher talk about egg proteins uncurling (denaturing), and reconnecting with each other during cooking. Salt, like acid, affects how this denaturing takes place, especially its rate.

                              For what it is worth, Larousse Gastronomique, presumably a good expression of classic French culinary wisdom, seasons the beaten eggs before cooking.

                              1. re: paulj
                                Bryn Feb 10, 2009 05:01 AM

                                There's acid , salt, water, and alcohol soluble proteins. Egg proteins are salt soluble.

                                It looks like I'm wrong about tough versus not. Something doesn't seem right about McGee's (gasp I'm an infidel) science. I'll take a look in my on food and cooking and my food chemistry textbooks and see what exactly is going on.

                                1. re: Bryn
                                  jen kalb Feb 11, 2009 02:17 PM

                                  tenderness aside, salting the food as its cooking (veg, pasta etc) is more effective in flavoring the food.

                                  Ive never noticed a lack of tenderness in salted scrambled eggs, but I sure notice it when I am served unsalted eggs - sprinkling does not have the same impact. My ealiest bad food experience was a dish of unsalted oatmeal at a hotel restaurant - even the cream it was sserved with didnt redeem it.

                                  1. re: jen kalb
                                    Bryn Feb 11, 2009 05:49 PM

                                    that's more personal preference though. I prefer my oatmeal unsalted and with a pound of brown sugar on top. Most people are disgusted, but I love it.

                                    1. re: Bryn
                                      paulj Feb 11, 2009 06:40 PM

                                      So you are not a true Scotsman?

                                      "The Scotsman is mean as we're all well aware
                                      He's boney and blotchy and covered with hair
                                      He eats salty porridge, he works all the day
                                      And hasn't got bishops to show him the way"
                                      Flanders and Swan, The English
                                      http://sniff.numachi.com/pages/tiTHEN...

                                      1. re: paulj
                                        Bryn Feb 11, 2009 06:54 PM

                                        No I eat the steel cut oats, but I'm only an eighth Scotswoman. hahaha

                                      2. re: Bryn
                                        jen kalb Feb 12, 2009 12:30 PM

                                        its certainly a function of what you're used to. I was in 2nd grade at the time and the unsalted oatmeal was unrecognizable to me as the food I loved.

                                  2. re: paulj
                                    s
                                    SteveG Feb 13, 2009 01:16 PM

                                    I'm pretty sure I've read that salt helps denature some of the egg proteins, so I'm in agreement with most of the science heads here.

                                    If you're beating egg whites, if you add a pinch of salt they more quickly release from the weird self-connected mass into an egg white fluid, which then incorporates air more easily.

                                    If I'm making scrambled eggs, however, I like somewhat big uneven curds, so I avoid over-mixing the eggs. Part of avoiding over-mixing is also avoiding salt at that stage. I think I then add salt once they're in the pan as I start to cook them, somewhat like the Larousse Gastronomique which suggests seasoning the beaten eggs before cooking, but not seasoning the eggs before beating and then cooking.

                                    At the table, I grind pepper and sprinkle maldon or fleur de sel directly on the surface according to taste. If I've been exercising heavily, there's a lot of salt. If not, maybe the barest sprinkle.

                            3. JerryMe Feb 9, 2009 05:55 AM

                              I do not salt ANYTHING!! I let the people eating determine their salt level. Period. I may get slammed for said statement but really, how can I possibly know what other's salt desire is??

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: JerryMe
                                BobB Feb 9, 2009 06:09 AM

                                Wouldn't slam you for it, but I do disagree. Adding salt at different stages in the cooking process produces different effects. Add salt after cooking and you will taste it clearly as salt, possibly even get the texture of the grains if you use a larger-grained salt like kosher. Added judiciously during the cooking process, salt can enhance the natural flavors of the food without necessarily making it taste "salty" at all.

                                Most dishes (even most desserts!) require a certain minimal level of salt to taste their best. The key is to add just enough to reach that minimum, and allow people to add more afterward if they so desire. Learning how much each dish needs is part of the process of becoming a good cook.

                                1. re: BobB
                                  cowgirlthunder Feb 9, 2009 10:42 AM

                                  I agree with BobB...That's kind of crazy, really. Salt brings out a lot of flavor in much of our cooking. Just salting atop the food has a different effect than using it during cooking. I use a bit of salt, but I'm careful not to overdo it. People can always add more to their own plates if they so choose.

                              2. Karl S Feb 9, 2009 07:03 AM

                                http://thenewcook.com/2008/07/kitchen...

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Karl S
                                  paulj Feb 9, 2009 09:42 AM

                                  Does anyone know the details of the CI test? How much salt did they use? How did they cook the eggs? Was the effect strong enough to easily replicate at home?

                                2. c
                                  cdmedici Feb 9, 2009 05:29 PM

                                  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxV9QL...

                                  This is the best way I have ever found to make scrambled eggs.

                                  8 Replies
                                  1. re: cdmedici
                                    paulj Feb 9, 2009 05:31 PM

                                    What does that video say about salt?

                                    1. re: paulj
                                      c
                                      cdmedici Feb 9, 2009 05:58 PM

                                      Gordon Ramsay says not to to put salt in the eggs before because it breaks down the eggs and makes them watery.

                                      1. re: cdmedici
                                        todao Feb 9, 2009 06:02 PM

                                        Well, even though I disagree with Gordon Ramsay on just about every technique he teaches, I have to agree with him on the preference for not adding salt until the eggs are cooked. Oh how painful it is to find myself agreeing with him ...

                                        1. re: todao
                                          thew Feb 10, 2009 04:49 AM

                                          those are exactly the opposite of how i like my scrambled eggs.
                                          i like to stir them very little,over low heat. i like very big tender curds

                                    2. re: cdmedici
                                      b
                                      BigE Feb 10, 2009 08:27 AM

                                      Me too. I never (seriously, never) made eggs before I watched that video because I really didn't like the way my mom made scrambled eggs. Since I watched it, I make eggs at least once a week.

                                      1. re: BigE
                                        f
                                        frobe Feb 10, 2009 10:18 AM

                                        For those in the US who make the Ramsey scrambled eggs, what do you use in place of creme fraiche?

                                        1. re: frobe
                                          BobB Feb 10, 2009 10:41 AM

                                          We have creme fraiche here.

                                          1. re: frobe
                                            c
                                            cdmedici Feb 10, 2009 11:10 AM

                                            I have used sour cream before and regular cream. They work, but not as well.

                                      2. chef chicklet Feb 10, 2009 11:51 AM

                                        You know this is really a very thought provoking question cowgirlthunder.

                                        For soft creamy scrambled eggs, I salt (and grind pepper) afterwards. I don't know about toughening the egg if you salt before, I only salt afterwards becauase I can taste the egg after its cooked and see if it has sufficient salt (actually a pat of nice butter too).

                                        I think my eggs come out pretty nice, and I believe the magic is to keep them from cooking at too hot of a temperature that keeps them nice and creamy...low temperature and take your time, gentlly fold over as you cook. It shold look like custard. To answer your questions, about when to salt... To salt prior, you're putting salt througout the egg, I prefer salt lightly ground on top while their still hot. NO cold eggs for me unless they're deviled. Have you tried it yourself? I think it might be a matter of individual preference too...I like Kosher salt, and I use a grinder for somethings, and sometimes not if I want a coarser texture. I'm not a salt snob, but to me there is a difference.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: chef chicklet
                                          cowgirlthunder Feb 11, 2009 01:56 PM

                                          Thank you very much, chef chicklet.

                                          I usually salt my eggs after cooking, but honestly...;) It's because I sometimes forget to do it during!

                                          I'm not even sure if the salt is a big enough factor to affect the texture noticeably. That's what I'm trying to determine here. I think the biggest factor is the heat level and the time you take to cook the eggs. I think that the salt factor may just be a matter of taste, rather than a large difference in texture.

                                          1. re: chef chicklet
                                            kattyeyes Feb 11, 2009 06:48 PM

                                            Your technique is exactly how I do my eggs--slow and low (which always reminds me of that Beastie Boys song, yet I digress)...only difference, I don't salt because mine are cheesy eggs like Veggo spoke of above. I put plenty of shredded cheddar to get my salt fix. :)

                                          2. paulj Feb 17, 2009 03:48 PM

                                            I just watched Andre Soltner make an omelet on Chef's Story. He added salt and pepper while mixing the eggs. Also he effectively scrambled the eggs until they started to set (over fairly high heat), and then almost immediately started roll and form the final omelet shape. He was able to produce a quick omelet that had no color (outside crust), but was also not runny in the middle. The process is described in more detail in the printed recipe.

                                            http://www.chefsstory.com/recipe22.html

                                            On the same series, Patrick O'Connell demonstrated scrambled eggs - without adding salt at the start. But he adds caviar at the end, which effectively adds enough salt.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: paulj
                                              b
                                              Brewchief Aug 7, 2010 10:29 AM

                                              One thing about adding salt ahead of time for something like an omelette is that you aren't looking for a creamy consistency but rather a layer of egg that will hold up to being folded. You don't stir them in the pan much, other than to help them set up, and so salt ahead of time when it will break down the eggs some and make them tougher/firmer can be desirable.

                                            2. b
                                              Brewchief Aug 7, 2010 10:24 AM

                                              I see that this thread has not been touched in a while, but I came across it in look for an answer to the thread topic, and managed to find an answer elsewhere.

                                              Here is a link to a video in which Gordon Ramsay says at around 1 minute and 10 seconds in, NOT to season ahead of time because it will break down the eggs and make them watery.

                                              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dU_B3Q...

                                              He also suggests not whisking the eggs until they are in the pan, as this will also contribute to the eggs breaking down. Of course, this may not matter as much with typical scrambled eggs, but here he is looking for a creamy, unbroken consistency.

                                              It all depends on what kind of scrambled eggs you prefer, but it looks like adding salt ahead of time will break down the eggs and in effect contribute to toughness (as far as eggs go), which basically just means firmer and less light and creamy or fluffy.

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: Brewchief
                                                paulj Aug 7, 2010 10:35 AM

                                                But there's no need to take an expert's word for this, is there? It only costs a couple of eggs to test this.

                                                1. re: paulj
                                                  paulj Aug 7, 2010 01:31 PM

                                                  Normally I lightly beat the eggs, salt them shortly after putting them in the pan, and cook the to produce the 'broken omelet' effect.

                                                  I just tried something different:
                                                  beat the eggs well, adding my normal amount of salt (couple of shakes of the large kitchen shaker per 2 eggs)
                                                  let them sit (about a hour)
                                                  then cooked in small skillet to soft curds stage.

                                                  After sitting the eggs were 'watery'; no breakdown or separation, just very runny. However I have not let unsalted eggs sit for the same time, so can't say whether the salting made any difference or not.

                                                  I had no problems keeping the eggs soft and creamy. No toughness or separation.

                                                  1. re: paulj
                                                    b
                                                    Brewchief Aug 7, 2010 06:39 PM

                                                    Very good! Thanks for testing. At any rate, I gather the recipe I linked is quite delicious and plan on making them soon. I may try experimenting myself with whisking before the pan AND salting them beforehand, both things Ramsay said would break them down, and then trying them by the recipe.

                                                    Thanks for the sharing your experience.

                                                  2. re: paulj
                                                    b
                                                    Brewchief Aug 7, 2010 06:32 PM

                                                    Most certainly! I just haven't tested it yet, as part of the recipe requires creme fraiche, which can be substituted for a small amount of sour cream or cultured buttermilk added to heavy cream, and I haven't had time for the grocery since seeing this recipe.

                                                2. d
                                                  dennisthechef May 31, 2012 07:19 PM

                                                  Thanks cowgirl.
                                                  This delimna has been perculating with me too.
                                                  Diverging opinions abound. Ferdinand Point suggested piercing a garlic clove on the tines of a fork and slowly using this to stir the eggs over low heat. Julia and Jaques Pepin wrote a book together with the format of showing side by side their different techniques on the same recipe. For scrambled eggs, Julia salts before, and Jaques salts after. Who knows more about eggs than those two, and even they couldnt agree. I have stopped salting before, just in case, but I've always wondered if it really makes a difference.
                                                  All of us can agree that tough, watery scrambled eggs are awful, but is it the salt, or the overcooking that causes it?
                                                  I read all the replies on this post and there still doesnt seem to be a consensus.
                                                  The problem with adding salt at the table is that the eggs are not seasoned all the way through.
                                                  Unsalted eggs with a grind of sea salt at the end taste like exactly that. I think the eggs taste better if the salt is mixed in.
                                                  i think the Gordon Ramsey recipe has two problems . The first is too much butter at the beginning. Butter and eggs are a heavenly combination, but by adding the butter at the end of the cooking you can use less and still have more fresh butter flavor. Secondly his recipe requires creme fraiche and although its available, its not really a staple in american kitchens.

                                                  I personally think Ramsey is overrated. I can only attribute his personality cult to a fan base of abused british public school kids who have grown up to find that they cant learn unless they are being browbeaten by some boorish lout. I find that the learning curve is easier when I am intrigued, and illuminated rather than intimidated by some obnoxious...
                                                  but I digress...
                                                  in this recipe, he gets it mostly right.
                                                  Here, for what its worth is my recipe for scrambled eggs the way I like them.

                                                  Melt a tablespoon of unsalted butter over moderate heat in a nonstick skillet. Crack 6 eggs directly into the skillet and slowly stir them with a rubber or wooden spatula. The whites will begin to set and the yolks will remain whole until they break in their own good time with the stirring process. If the whites are slightly more done than the yolks, well thats a good thing. As the eggs begin to set and the yolks begin to break , turn the heat to very low to give you more control and prevent over cooking. When the eggs are still runny, take them off the heat and add another tablespoon (or 2) of butter and a dollop of heavy cream. Return to the heat and continue stirring slowly until the eggs are almost as done as you like them. Remove from heat, add sea salt, fresh pepper and any additional cheese or herbs you wish. Stir in the seasonings and serve.
                                                  The residual heat will finish cooking the eggs. The eggs are thoroughly salted, and perfectly creamy with large uneven curds and traces of the the yolk are still visible.
                                                  I dont know if salt breaks down eggs, or what exactly that means, but I think this technique solves all the issues.

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