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They say you can get the whipped cream or egg whites "higher" or "stiffer" if you use a copper bowl. Why is that?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Yes, as mentioned previously it is beneficial to whip egg whites in copper bowls BUT it is important to note that the impact on the egg whites from the copper is primarily beneficial for applications where the final product is going to be baked. You will generally not notice any increased volume in the whipped egg whites themselve.

As the whites are whipped the copper bonds to create a copper salt that increases the temperature at which the proteins will coagulate. The copper salt makes them more pliable and able to better expand without rupturing. Under "usual" conditions (glass, stainless steel, ceramic) they will coagulate at around 160F degrees. When whipped in a copper bowl they have to reach 170F degrees before they coagulate. This means that they will have a 10 degree increase in temperature to continue to expand and increase in volume.

This also means that if you're talking about whipping egg whites for meringues, dried for cookies or other desserts, the expense of a copper bowl will not be worthwhile as you're not looking for expansion properties in these items. If you're doing a lot of cakes and souffles then a copper bowl would certainly produce better results.

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Wouldn't the copper added to the food also add toxicity? I remember that the old practice of boiling a copper penny with cabbage was discouraged for that reason. – Kevin Keane Nov 20 '15 at 0:56

According to wikipedia, the copper bonds to the sulfur in the egg whites, which has the effect of stabilizing the foam.

Cookwise by Shirley Corriher says the same thing.

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As does The Guru, Harold McGee. – daniel Aug 1 '10 at 21:06

For whipped cream it helps to have a metal bowl if you cool the cream while you whip by dipping the bottom of the bowl in ice water. You might need to do this if, for example, the cream is warm to begin with.

I couldn't say though if a copper bowl would work better than any other metal bowl.

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Probably a good thing that we have definitively answered that question, then. – daniel Aug 1 '10 at 22:50
This works for whipping cream because as the cream is whipped, it's the fat globules that bond with one another, trapping air in the process. A chilled bowl, especially metal, helps the fat to firm up and bond together more easily. The opposite is true for egg whites. Many people confuse the fact that since they both get whipped and end up white, light and fluffy that the same is true for both. Not the case. Egg whites should be room temp. or even slightly warmed to encourage the proteins to unwind and link together to trap the air. Copper only has an affect on the egg whites. – Darin Sehnert Aug 2 '10 at 4:31

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