I was separating egg whites today and one of the yolks broke and contaminated my bowl of whites. I started from scratch, but I'm wondering if I really needed to; would a tiny bit of yolk (say, 1/8 tspn in 4 egg whites) mixed in with the whites make a big difference?

To provide some context, I was about to whip the whites with castor sugar to make almond macaroons.

11 Answers 11


Yes, it matters a lot. When you are separating egg whites, it is for whipping them into a foam. This foam is a protein-based foam, relying on protein ends hooking into each other. Even small traces of fat will prevent the foam from forming. Egg yolks contain high amounts of fat. Once an egg yolk breaks in your whites, you have to start the separation anew, because it can prevent your foam from forming. Also, don't use plastic bowls for whipping egg whites (their surface retains some fat molecules even after washing, giving you a less stable foam) and only whip with a cleanly washed whisk or mixer attachment (not one you have just used for something else, not even if you wiped it clean).

To prevent big mishaps, just separate each new egg in a teacup and only add the new white to the old whites after it has separated cleanly. Else you are in big trouble if you are separating a lot and the last egg contaminates the whole whites with yolk. And a single contaminated egg is easily reused for a quick egg-and-feta sandwich or something else.

Contamination the other way round isn't so worrisome. You still want to work as precisely as possible, as yolk-only recipes will often have somewhat worse texture if eggwhite is included, but small contaminating amounts are usually not noticeable in the finished product, even in foams (zabaglione, mayonnaise). This is because yolk foams are fat-based, and small amounts of protein don't prevent a fat foam from forming.

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    I would add that it is especially important for something like macaroons, meringhe, etc. where a stiff foam is very important. You may get away with it if just lighly beating egg whites for a cake, though.
    – nico
    Commented May 12, 2012 at 13:58
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    Nice answer. Pastry chefs use copper bowls for making meringues, as copper ions transfer to the egg whites and help stabilise them, preventing overbeating. Commented May 12, 2012 at 18:28
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    @ElendilTheTall you don't need copper. Acid does the same job as copper ions. So most recipes call for a pinch of cream of tartar (very weak acid, no taste). And it doesn't color the foam the way copper does.
    – rumtscho
    Commented May 12, 2012 at 19:04
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    @Cerberus I suspect that it depends on the type of plastic too. My measuring cups seem to be made of PLA or some similar hard plastic, while the plastic which always feels "greasy" is usually nylon-based. But I never tried it myself, only read about the problem in sources I consider reputable (I think McGee mentions it too), and of course for most applications, you don't want the stiffest meringue possible, just soft peaks.
    – rumtscho
    Commented May 12, 2012 at 19:06
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    I didn't say you needed it, I said pastry chefs use it :P Commented May 12, 2012 at 21:14

I just stumbled upon this to see if I ruined my angel food cake when some egg yolk leaked into my whites. I spooned out as much as I could but there was still a little in the whites but I didn't have enough eggs to start over. Gave it a go, and I was able to get stiff peaks. Took a tad longer than normal but I got stiff peaks nonetheless.


I know that this question was from over a year ago, but id just like to point out that i make meringues at least once a month and often a little bit of yolk gets in.

This is never a big issue!!I just whisk the egg whites like normal and almost always it is fine.

Good Luck with future meringues!!

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    "almost always" and "never a big issue" contradicts itself a bit, I'm afraid.
    – Mien
    Commented Jan 2, 2014 at 14:37

I had the same problem this morning as I was trying to make waffles, but I still got stiff peaks. I had a significant amount of yolk in my whites and what I did was I tried to scoop as much yolk as I could out of the whites with a spoon and, even though there were still some wisps of yolk leftover, the whites still became stiff peaks quite quickly (of course I was using the second highest setting on my electric mixer). Waffles were delicious!


It depends on the amount of yolk. 1/8 tsp of yolk to 4 whites may be a bit on the high side, but using a spoon and a damp paper towel to remove as much yolk as possible generally reduces the amount of yolk down to an amount that works fine. (You can sometimes lift yolk off the top with a damp paper towel, otherwise you can drag it up the side of the bowl with a spoon and then wipe it off the side with the paper towel.)

SeriousEats did a test where they compared whites with no yolk, whites with a trace amount of yolk (1 drop per 100 grams), whites with a larger amount of yolk (3 drops per 100 grams), and whites whipped in a bowl that had been wiped down with a thin sheen of vegetable oil. Only the whites with a larger amount of yolk failed to form stiff peaks. The other three tests formed virtually identical stiff peaks, although the whites with a trace of yolk took longer to form peaks.

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    That's good to know. I also love it that they looked at how the foam behaves after some time sitting around. In practical terms, a broken yolk is still a problem, I think - the "larger" amount was only 3 drops, and when a yolk breaks, I don't think I can remove it to have under 3 drops - but it is good info that we don't need to stress out that much. I suppose the good old rule might have been created before stand mixers - I have beaten egg whites by hand, and it feels as if it takes forever, even with the cleanest whites.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Apr 16, 2021 at 20:31
  • @rumtscho I added a little more on how to remove yolk, particularly I'd forgotten that a damp paper towel is important. I am Very Bad at cracking eggs so I usually have to use a combination of methods--cracking one at a time into a small bowl and then also removing traces of yolk from my small bowl to make slight oopses usable, so I don't end up with too many extra cracked eggs. Commented Apr 19, 2021 at 13:22

Before discarding, you can give this a try. Worked for me today (I was making tiramisu).

  1. Lift as much of yellow specks from the egg whites in your bowl as you can and then start beating it, adding little sugar at a time.
  2. Even after beating long enough if you do not see the anti-gravity feature of the meringue, just let your bowl sit undisturbed for some time (maybe half an hour).
  3. Once you are back, you should see a foam-like surface on the bowl.
  4. Scoop the foam up carefully with a spoon (don't dig too deep, else the liquid might come in too) and now hold the spoon upside down.
  5. If the foam doesn't fall off, yippee, there you have your meringue!!
  6. Collect as much of this foam as you can(remember to check for the anti-gravity feature) and add it to your cream mixture (in case of tiramisu), very gently mixing it in. You will find that the cream slowly thickens.

Ofcourse, this method will not produce as much meringue as expected out of x number of eggs, but, it does come in handy.

  • There's no cream in a meringue. And I don't really understand how a foam substitutes for one. Can you clarify your answer please? Is this actually a method for recovering a meringue or is it just what it sounds like, some way of reusing the failed attempt?
    – Aaronut
    Commented Sep 3, 2013 at 19:16
  • I have done this too. Just whipping what you can whip and scoop out the stiff peaks.
    – Mien
    Commented Sep 3, 2013 at 19:46

Well I have had a little contamination from a broken yolk on two occasions but both times pressed on and had no problem getting the mix stiff enough in a normal timescale and the end product was perfect. I was making pavlova. So in my mind I have disproved the old wives tale that even minute amounts of yolk contamination make a foam impossible to sustain. I think the sugar beaten in stabilizes it strongly.


A speck of yolk shouldn't matter but more than that you should start over because you'll be disappointed in the final result I speak from decades of baking


It does matter!! I had this problem and I whipped and whipped and would not form anything. I didn’t have more that 3 drops of yolk!!


Honestly it doesn't really matter. If you want to separate the yolk, then you should break the egg and then slowly tip the yolk between the two shell halves. The other way is a bit more messy; first rule wash your hands. Then break the egg. Tip it into your hand and then roll it between your hands the white will filter out between your fingers. I have found that the best thing is to have 2 bowls, one for whites and one for yolks. This way if things get messed up then you won't ruin a whole meal.


If you are going to beat the egg whites to peaks, a teeny tiny bit of yolk wont spoil the effort IF you add 1/4 tsp of cream of tartar. This is my experience.

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