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There's a certain gross smell I notice with certain egg products that smells kinda like spit and kinda like a wet dog, very different from the smell of rotten or overcooked eggs.

People I've asked about this have no idea what I'm talking about, so it's possible that I'm sensitive to it but that most people aren't.

Foods with the smell:

  • frozen custard from ice cream restaurants

  • homemade fried rice that gets raw egg thrown in while it's cooking

  • homemade spaetzle egg pasta

Foods without the smell as far as I can tell:

  • scrambled eggs

  • over-easy eggs

  • poached eggs

  • meringue

  • raw eggs

  • bread pudding

I've fixed fried rice by just cooking the eggs separately before adding them in and frozen custard by just eating ice cream instead, but I have no idea how to fix spaetzle, which is a shame, because I like the shape and texture.

My (not very confident) best guess is that undercooked egg yolks exposed to water cause some sort of microbe to grow and give off a smell, which is presumably also the process that causes wet dog and spit smell, but I don't know how or why it would happen so fast in water that's boiling or nearly boiling (frozen custard is pasteurized, right?), and I'm not sure how to prevent it. If that's the problem, maybe cooking longer or hotter or adding salt or something would discourage the bugs from growing?

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    It's possible this smell is in your mind (which doesn't mean it's not a real problem for you!) – you could try an experiment by getting a friend to produce two bowls of fried rice with eggs cooked in advance and one with eggs cooked in the rice, and doing a blind smell to see if you can identify the odd one out. If you find that you can't reliably tell, that might help your brain to break the negative association.
    – dbmag9
    Apr 27 at 7:08
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    I would say that (as you have also realised) your microbe theory doesn't make much sense as microbes don't grow that fast, and since a raw egg (which contains water) doesn't have the smell for you.
    – dbmag9
    Apr 27 at 7:09
  • If adding raw egg into fried rice tastes/smells weird/off to you, perhaps try stir frying the egg separately, chop it up, then add to your fried rice towards the end of cooking. Overcooked egg can smell a bit funky to me. Perhaps that's the issue?
    – Billy Kerr
    Apr 27 at 10:44
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    Could it be that the "spit" and "wet dog" smell is actually gasp chicken smell? You may be more sensitive to it than other people. And it is not at all related to any particular dish or preparation method, but just a characteristic of those arbitrary eggs that happened to be used in that instance? Apr 27 at 11:55
  • Admittedly what we make is technically nokedli not spätzle, but we never put egg in it at all ;) Needs strong flour or it's too soft.
    – unlisted
    Apr 27 at 15:32

2 Answers 2

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I am afraid this is the question to which you are unlikely to ever discover the answer.

It is completely normal that you can smell some molecule that others cannot smell. When somebody smells an egg, several hundred compounds (of the thousands or more present in the egg) dock to receptors in their nose, and the combination of the information of these receptors, plus all other information available to the brain (including seeing an egg, being in a kitchen, etc.) leads to the recognition of an egg. And the set of receptors one has is pretty much unique to them. So, for everybody, there is a different subset of compounds their nose detects when they are around an egg.

It so happens, that in an egg-eating culture, pretty much all of these compounds have a positive association. I may smell A, B and C and think "oh, egg, tasty!" and my neighbour might smell A, B and D and think "oh, egg, tasty!". But apparently, you have a rare case where you smell A, B and Z, and for some reason, Z is very unpleasant.

In the current situation, it is highly unlikely that this comes from a microorganism. Such an explanation is both unnecessarily complex, and, as you already noted, it doesn't give the microorganism time to multiply. It is probably a chemical thing where either something that was bound up in other molecules gets released in certain preparations, or a chemical reaction happens during the preparation and a new compound gets created. (And if it was, against all odds, a microorganism, it is obviously not a safety-relevant one: people would have noticed if these egg preparations were causing food poisoning left and right, even if they couldn't smell it).

So, the situation is:

  • there are myriads of chemical reactions happening when you prepare an egg
  • one of them has a product which you can smell and is very unpleasant
  • the ability to smell this is really rare (else it would be common knowledge that there is a subpopulation of people who hate eggs prepared this way).

Finding out which exact chemical docks onto your receptors would be a multi-year task for a team of scientists with access to highly specialized equipment, involving regular experimentations with you as the subject. And if somebody did do it, then... all you have is a molecule's name. If preparing the eggs in a certain way releases that molecule, it will continue to get released. It is unlikely that you can do anything about it, short of selectively breeding a new race of hens whose eggs don't contain that compound, something that would take decades, if possible at all.

So, the most realistic thing you can do is to accept that you just hate that smell. In the grand scheme of variations one's genes can encode, that one idiosyncrasy is pretty compatible with a happy life - just stay away from eggs prepared in ways you dislike :)

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  • ...or you can try alternate methods of preparation to see if you can eliminate your perception of the off-putting aromas. You don't necessarily need to immediately just accept this as the way it is and avoid eggs....which is really what I was alluding to in my answer.
    – moscafj
    Apr 27 at 10:33
  • Oh yes, sorry if that wasn't clear. The OP states in the question that there are several egg preparations they are OK with, so by "those eggs" I implicitly meant "eggs prepared in ways you don't like". I guess the way I put it was very unclear, will edit.
    – rumtscho
    Apr 27 at 18:15
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I did a cursory search and don't find evidence of genetic difference that might cause certain groups of people to experience eggs differently, though I'll admit it was a very quick search. Anecdotally, I have a good friend who is really put off by, what he calls, the "sulfur" smell of egg when cooked traditionally. However, he finds eggs cooked a low temperatures (sous vide) acceptable. So, I'm guessing that this is a personal sensitivity or aversion, rather than the incubation of bacteria. You might try sous vide/low temperature eggs to see if it makes a difference for you. I, admittedly, don't know of any evidence that demonstrates why there would be a difference for him based on cooking technique....but, that is his experience. N=1, but might help you get a handle on things...or someone in the gustatory or olfaction business can weigh in and set us straight. My point is that you don't simply need to stop your investigation and decide to avoid eggs. Try some alternate preparations to see if that has an impact on your perception.

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    OP says it’s different than the smell of rotting or overcooked eggs which I think covers the sulphur angle.
    – Preston
    Apr 27 at 0:49
  • You don't have to find evidence that people experience the smell of X differently - this is the normal state of things, and studies on the exact mechanism have only been done in a few cases where there are known subpopulations which can be differentiated empirically, like the people who love coriander and those who hate it. But it is absolutely normal that somebody has a receptor or two which others don't have, we just don't have the occasion to notice it in everyday life.
    – rumtscho
    Apr 27 at 9:32
  • @rumtscho I was referring to evidence of a genetic difference, in which people with a specific DNA make up perceive taste or smell differently, such as the known mutation where some people can't taste the bitter compound PTC.
    – moscafj
    Apr 27 at 10:27
  • @Preston...it was just an example to illustrate the point....edited.
    – moscafj
    Apr 27 at 10:29
  • @moscafj yes, sure. What I'm saying is that, for most smellable compounds, there will likely be a handful of people in the world who can't smell them, for genetic reasons. And nobody has looked into these connections, ever. So, if you had found something, that would have been good - but the fact that you didn't find anything does not say much.
    – rumtscho
    Apr 27 at 18:14

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