What's Actually in Fast-Food Eggs?
An egg is a simple food—essential amino acids, 6 grams of protein, 80 calories, a yolk, and some white. It’s a straightforward, tasty, compact source of sustenance, most commonly eaten at breakfast but certainly welcome at any meal, or even as a snack.
But when you look at the ingredient lists of some of America’s fast-food breakfasts, the egg isn’t quite so simple.
In early 2018, Panera Bread made waves—er, scrambles—by calling out the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and their lack of a definition for an “egg.” Panera, in the middle of making over its menu with clean ingredients sans preservatives, was trying to answer the question for themselves. But they were certainly happy to draw attention to the wide array of ingredients that some of their competitors were putting in customers’ “eggs,” as well as the many processed egg products that were being paraded as wholesome, genuine ovums.
For their part, the FDA still has not clarified what an egg is. The code reads, “No regulation shall be promulgated fixing and establishing a reasonable definition and standard of identity for the food commonly known as eggs.”
That means some restaurants—perhaps the one you love for their egg and sausage burrito—are still serving you “eggs” and not just an egg.
What’s in the eggs of America’s fast-food breakfast?
We searched the ingredient lists of more than a dozen fast-food and fast-casual breakfast spots. Several of them did not have their lists available. (Shame!) Those that did we listed below so you can have a better understanding of what you’re eating when you order an egg.
McDonald's McMuffins have genuine eggs, freshly cracked from the shell and cooked for your breakfast sandwich. But if you order a Sausage, Egg, & Cheese Biscuit, for example, the egg is a different story. Those breakfast sandwiches and biscuits are served with a “Folded Egg,” and it has quite a few ingredients.
Folded Egg—Pasteurized whole eggs, food starch-modified, soybean oil, natural flavors (botanical source), sodium acid pyrophosphate, carrageenan, flavor enhancer [salt, maltodextrin, natural flavor (plant source), spices, herb, turmeric (color)], monosodium phosphate, citric acid, soy lecithin (release agent).
That’s 15 ingredients in “eggs.”
Subway’s Bacon, Egg & Cheese flatbread, as well as three similar options, offers up a scrambled egg-style patty with 15 ingredients, tied with the McDonald’s offering.
Egg Omelet Patty—Liquid whole egg, liquid egg white, water, skim milk powder, canola oil, butter flavour (liquid and hydrogenated soybean oil, salt, soy lecithin, natural flavor, tocopherols), natural corn starch, salt, xanthan gum, citric acid, white pepper.
Want it with an egg white patty instead? That list is a bit shorter.
Egg (White) Omelet Patty—Liquid egg white, natural corn starch, butter flavour (soybean oil, natural flavour), salt, xanthan gum, white pepper.
Chick-fil-A’s Bacon, Egg & Cheese Biscuit has one of those solid “sheets” of eggs we have come to recognize in fast-food breakfasts. This one has nine ingredients, if “natural flavors” just counts for one.
Egg—whole eggs, water, contains 2% or less of the following: salt, natural butter type flavor [medium chain triglycerides, coconut oil, natural flavors], xanthan gum, citric acid, annatto [color]
But one silver lining is the chicken restaurant’s egg whites for the Egg White Grill. They really are just egg whites.
If you love Whataburger’s Breakfast on a Bun, you’re eating a “Fresh USDA grade AA ex-large whole shell egg.”
But for fans of the Breakfast Platter Scrambled Eggs, the list is a bit longer, though not alarmingly so.
Scrambled Eggs—Whole eggs, nonfat milk, citric acid, 0.13% water added as carrier for citric acid.
Jack in the Box
Jack in the Box has a split menu, too. Every fried egg on their breakfast sandwiches and biscuits is a “Fried Fresh USDA Grade AA Medium Egg.”
But if you order scrambled eggs, like what’s in the Grande Sausage Breakfast Burrito, you’re getting a bit more:
Scrambled Eggs—Scrambled Whole Eggs, 19.0% Water, Egg Whites, Contains less than 2% of the following: Salt, Xanthan Gum, Citric Acid, Annatto (color), Natural Butter Flavor (Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, Medium Chain Triglycerides).
Dunkin’ (formerly of Dunkin’ Donuts) has been shifting away from their sticky-sweet reputation and embracing more filling, wholesome breakfast options. Their sandwiches are pretty tasty, but the egg lists aren’t.
Egg Patty—Egg Whites, Egg Yolks, Soybean Oil, Water, Contains 2% or less of: Corn Starch, Salt, Natural Flavor, Xanthan Gum, Cellulose Gum, Citric Acid
For the attention to the egg issue that Panera garnered, their egg list for options like Bacon, Scrambled Egg & Cheese Ciabatta is relatively simple, though not just one ingredient.
Pasteurized Whole Eggs—Whole Eggs, Nisin Preparation [To Preserve Freshness], Citric Acid
If you’re making a Taco Bell run before midday, you could order a Breakfast Soft Taco with Bacon. That ingredient list looks like this:
Egg—Cage-free whole eggs, soybean oil, salt, citric acid, pepper, flavor (sunflower oil, flavors), xanthan gum, guar gum.
What are these ingredients?
To be fair to these restaurants, many of these ingredients are quite common in processed foods and even some foods that are only mildly processed. Xanthan gum and guar gum, for example, are both thickeners and stabilizers. They keep the mixture from falling apart or separating, and they’re in great number of foods.
Recognizable ingredients like salt, pepper, spices, and herbs aren’t anything too concerning. But monosodium phosphate? Sodium acid pyrophosphate? Soy lecithin? Wouldn’t a plain egg just be simpler?