illustration by lauren kolm

Because breakfast is, indeed, a science

Sammy Nickalls
March 28, 2018

Hard-boiled eggs might seem simple in concept—and as a result, embarrassing to mess up. But in reality, they’re tricky, which is exactly why we’ve covered practically every aspect of them: how to nail the perfect boil, how to peel them, and even how to “hack” them so that you don’t have to read all these darn articles on how to deal with hard-boiled eggs.

But it turns out, there’s a reason why it can be hard to boil a perfect egg, and it has to do with science. Omni Calculator quantum scientist Miłosz Panfil, Ph.D., used his know-how to create a calculator that estimates the optimal egg boiling time. But how much does physics have to do with breakfast? It turns out, when it comes to hard-boiled eggs, a lot.

Panfil explained that there are more things to focus on than egg size or initial temperature, including where you live. “When we go higher above the sea level, the air pressure lowers, and the boiling point of water decreases,” he explained on the calculator’s site. “That makes the cooking process more time-consuming.”

It’s impossible to make a hard-boiled egg on Mt. Everest, for example, because air pressure and altitude above sea level affect how your egg will turn out—specifically, the boiling temperature of the water. In order to cook an egg, it must reach the denaturation temperature, which is 63 degrees Celsius for whites and 68 degrees Celsius for yolks. In the highest big city in the world—Bolivia’s El Alto, which has a population of over 1 million and is 4,150 meters above sea level—it takes two-and-a-half minutes longer to cook a soft-boiled egg. That’s why Panfil included altitude in his calculator.

Panfil told Extra Crispy that the inspiration came from Omni's "bring a bit of science into our daily lives" concept. "It's quite exciting that the complicated processes behind egg-cooking can be packaged into a small calculator that everyone can use," he said.

Other aspects included in the calculator are the egg’s mass, thermal properties of the egg, the egg’s initial temperature (was it refrigerated?), the temperature of the water, and plenty of other factors that may make you feel better about the sheer number of times you’ve asked Alexa how to make a hard-boiled egg.

 

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