Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
With the price of eggs continuing to spike along with everything else, more and more people are starting to raise their own chickens. Some of us are lucky enough to know someone who has a chicken coop and benefit from the overflow of eggs, while others are either actively raising chickens or thinking about if for the first time.
One of the things that anyone raising chickens encounters is a surprising abundance of eggs during the summer. This is due to the fact that chickens are triggered to lay more eggs as the days become longer and warmer. Chickens lay eggs throughout the year, but summer brings the most while winter brings the least.
If you suddenly find yourself overwhelmed with eggs, you can fill the refrigerator, give them away, or try an old and time-tested preservation technique known as water glassing. It’s basically eggs in a large canning jar in a solution of water and hydrated lime sometimes known as pickling lime.
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Don’t Water Glass Store-Bought Eggs
Freshly laid eggs from a farm or homestead are surrounded by a thin layer or film called a “bloom or cuticle.” This thin membrane helps to preserve the eggs and water glassing is essentially reinforcing the bloom to preserve the eggs longer. Store-bought eggs are washed before packaging and sale, and this washing step removes the bloom.
It’s curious that eggs in Europe and many other parts of the world are never washed, even when sold in a store. This allows the eggs to be displayed and sold unrefrigerated for weeks. In the U.S. the USDA and FDA require all eggs sold commercially to be washed, resulting in the need for refrigeration and a shorter shelf-life.
Don’t even think about water glassing store-bought eggs. It won’t work, and if you need a long-term preservation method for store-bought eggs, consider dehydration or freezing rather than water glassing.
The Science of Water Glassing
The hydrated lime in water creates a highly alkaline solution that prevents the loss of moisture from the eggs in storage. In fact, it’s both ends of the pH scale that are typically used for food preservation. Some foods are preserved in a highly acidic solution like vinegar while others, like water-glassed eggs, are preserved in highly alkaline solutions.
There’s even a recipe for pickled eggs in vinegar that used to be a regular site on the back bars in taverns, but those recipes are for preserving hard-boiled eggs while water glassing preserves the eggs fresh from the nest.
Will Any Lime Work?
Not really. Garden lime is too weak and other limes may create a solution that is too strong. You want a hydrated lime sometimes called “slaked lime” or ideally – pickling lime.
You can buy pickling lime in the food preservation section in some stores. Just look for the aisle with the canning jars. You can also get it through Amazon. It’s not terribly expensive, and a little goes a long way.
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The standard recipe calls for an ounce of pickling lime to a quart of water. The lime to water proportion is critical, so you may need a small kitchen scale to measure an accurate ounce. High concentrations of hydrated lime are toxic, but so are high concentrations of acetic acid, also known as vinegar.
Will Any Water Work?
Of course not. That would be too easy. Curiously, well water right from the tap or the pump works great. It’s the municipal waters that have chlorine or fluoride added that can cause problems. If you aren’t sure about water, filter it with a standard kitchen filter like a Brita.
If chlorine is your only concern, you can always let a large jar of chlorinated water sit in the sun for day. The direct sunlight will neutralize the chlorine. If your concern is fluoride, you’ll need to use a method such as distillation or reverse osmosis.
Bottled water works too, as long as it’s not chlorinated or has added fluoride. Most minerals in water are no harm, but it’s the chlorine and fluoride that affect the health of the “bloom” coating on fresh eggs.
A Quick Word on Eggs
You not only want fresh eggs, you want clean eggs. Eggs in the nest can sometimes get soiled by chicken droppings or mud on the hen’s feet. Inspect your eggs and set aside your clean eggs for water glassing and wash and eat the rest or preserve a different way.
It’s also best to keep them refrigerated as you accumulate eggs on the day you decide to water glass them. Unwashed, fresh eggs can keep in the refrigerator for months, so there’s no hurry here.
Avoid any egg that looks chipped, cracked, or show any imperfections in the integrity of the shell. It may seem like there are too many strict conditions here, but the simple fact is that most eggs come out of the nest in great shape and quite clean if you keep a clean chicken coop and mud-free chicken run. Just keep an eye out for the cracked or dirty ones.
And it doesn’t have to be just chicken eggs. You can water glass duck eggs, quail eggs, even turkey eggs. If the eggs are fresh, clean and unwashed, they’re candidates for water glassing. Many recipes recommend that you only use unfertilized eggs, so think twice about water glassing any wild egg harvests or if you’ve got roosters in the yard.
The Best Containers for Water Glassing
They actually don’t have to be glass, but that’s the most common. What’s important is any container used for water glassing eggs is watertight and airtight. Those are both standard conditions for effective food preservation.
Large canning jars are a common container, but steel buckets with airtight lids and even crocks that have airtight rubber or wax seals have been used. The benefit of a glass container is you can see the eggs and have occasional reassurance that things are okay over time.
Water Glass Egg Storage Basics
A cool, dry place is the standard recommendation. Avoid jostling or moving them with any frequency or the eggs could crack. Figure they’re good for a year if stored properly, although some reports indicate that 2 years is a possibility. Best to play it safe and figure they’re good for a year.
Before using any water-glassed egg, do the standard food integrity checks. Look at the appearance, smell it both before and after its cracked and always cook them. Always wash them before using and if for any reason you have any hesitation, toss it. It’s just an egg.
Water Glassed Egg Recipe
The best full report and recipe for water glassed eggs is in the archives of the USDA. It was written in 1935 and most everything you read about water glassing eggs is derived from this original document. Here’s the link: Food Utilization Section, Bureau of Home Economics Poultry Investigations, Bureau of Animal Industry.
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It’s a PDF file and it’s actually fun to read an old, hand-typed document. Below is the recipe in that report, and it continues to show up in the exact same way in water glass egg recipes to this day. The only change is that the old recipe mentions that you can gently wash off dirty eggs while the latest information says that no amount of cleaning should occur to protect the bloom coating.
- Large mixing bowl or pot
- Wire whisk
- Long tongs or a slotted spoon or slotted ladle for lowering the eggs into the jar
- 2-quart canning jar and lid (You can use any size container as long as the lime/water proportions are correct)
- 1-ounce of hydrated lime (pickling lime)
- 1-quart of fresh, filtered cold water
- 15 fresh, unwashed eggs (or as many as will fit in your container with at least 2-inches of lime solution over the tops of the eggs)
- Add 1-quart of water to the 2-quart canning jar.
- Weigh and add 1 ounce of pickling lime to the water in the jar.
- Whisk the lime powder to dissolve it in the water. You may have some residue that settles to the bottom. Don’t worry, that’s okay. That’s common.
- Carefully lower the eggs into the solution in the jar. You don’t want to drop them in or they may crack. Some recipes call for the eggs to be placed in the jar with the thin, pointed end down. That’s hard to do with the first few eggs, so don’t sweat it if all of the pointed ends aren’t straight down.
- Continue to lower eggs into the jar, but stop as the water solution approaches the rim, making sure there are at least 2-inches of lime solution above the eggs.
- Seal the jar tightly and wipe dry.
- Date the top of the jar and store in a cool, dry place.
Cooking With Water Glassed Eggs
There’s no trick here. Use your water glassed eggs the same way you would use a fresh egg pulled right from the hen’s nest. The lime solution will not affect the taste or quality of the eggs but you should give them a quick rinse to get rid of any lime coating. However, if you do notice any off odors or colors, that’s definitely a problem and the egg should be discarded.
Are Water Glassed Eggs Safe?
There’s plenty of debate about water glassing eggs as a food preservation method. Some point to alkaline environments as a hotbed for bacterial growth while others point to hydrated lime as a toxic chemical in high quantities. However, pickling lime has been used for a long, long time to preserve everything from vegetables to meats to eggs.
In a perfect world, we would all wash our eggs and refrigerate or freeze them. If the times or your circumstances make water glassing eggs a necessary option for preserving your eggs, you’ll have to make your own judgments about this food preservation technique. For many people over many years, it’s worked quite well when done properly.
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