We're baking a ton of meringue cookies for a party this weekend, so I picked up a carton of egg whites. It wasn't until after I got home that I noticed a warning stating:

"Due to pasteurization, liquid egg whites are not recommended for whipping or meringues."

I don't quite understand this. While pasteurization could denature proteins if the temp goes too high, the eggs whites generally shouldn't be getting hot enough for that to really happen. Further, you can buy dried egg whites at grocery stores labelled as "instant meringue" and those are also pasteurized.

I went ahead and whipped them anyway, and they seem to have worked just fine. The peaks could be stiffer if I had beaten them longer, but I was working quickly and just needed them to come to a reasonable piping stiffness.

Whipped egg whites

I'm just trying to understand the rationale of the warning on the label. Is it also a matter of age? Maybe these were fresher?

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    Silly me, I read the warning and went and used some other eggs instead... moral is, always try the non-reading approach first (something software users seem to know well)! – user3067860 Dec 6 at 20:11
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    I had a comment here first, indicating that "should not" and "not recommended" didn't mean the same. I checked RFC 2119 and stand corrected. – Alexander Kosubek Dec 7 at 11:39

Egg white foams are a delicate thing. They are easy to do, but also easy to mess up, and many things will do so. Here (Wayback Machine) is a blog that addresses many of the common or less so do's and don'ts of foams and tests them to see if the writer agrees with them effecting things. Items addressed are should eggs be new or old, at room temp, when to add sugar, and if pasteurized eggs work. For them, pasteurized was fine.

The general idea behind not using pasteurized as I understand it: For quality foams, the proteins in the egg white must unfold correctly during beating. In the process of heating the egg for pasteurization, the protein may well be chemically or physically altered and the ability to unfold it correctly for a foam might be reduced. In their test, it worked fine, just as it seems to have for you. But, at best, it may not be as consistent or forgiving. If you are slightly off on another aspect, say whipping speed, it may increase the odds of failure. Also, you may have gotten a batch of eggs that were pasteurized at an optimum temp, while another batch might have been done at a few degrees higher and affected the protein strands more and that batch might fail. I personally would consider it one more factor that might increase failure rates, might increase the need to add cream of tartar or lemon, might fail with sugar, etc.

Just opinion, but if it works for you, go for it, but expect that maybe some times it won't.

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    Agreed! They just wont whip up as stiff as a non-pasteurized egg white would, causing a novice baker's recipe to possibly fail. However, adding more Cream of Tartar can fix this issue as well. So if they ever don't whip, you have a plan B. – GloriaZ Dec 6 at 16:01
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    Here's a wayback machine link that should be relatively long-lived. – Rogem Dec 6 at 18:44
  • I always buy pasteurized eggs for general use. That said, I have failed miserably at whipping them, even to soft peaks. There's always someone who is successful, but I haven't been so lucky. – Cindy Dec 6 at 22:06
  • @Cindy, I used to raise ducks for eggs which some call impossible for foams. I found them to say the least finicky. Sometimes they would work great, better than chicken. Other times you might wear out your arm and blender, try lemons, try cream of tartar, whatever and get nothing beyond a pale white liquid. With pasteurized, it seemed like much of the time if behaved like I got yolk in even though I saw none, but other attempts would work fine. It seemed like it may have been too high of temp, or yolks may have seeped. I avoid it myself, but if it works for others, more power to them. – dlb Dec 6 at 22:53
  • Thanks Rogem/Jan to archive link to that article that should not go away. I thought it was a decent one that addressed a lot of the variables, though I would emphasis the "your results may vary" aspect. I know mine do. Also, for their pasteurization test, I think they used carton whites, so they likely were pasteurized already separated which may have given more consistent and controlled results. – dlb Dec 7 at 20:46

While pasteurization could denature proteins if the temp goes too high, the eggs whites generally shouldn't be getting hot enough for that to really happen.´

This assumption is incorrect. Denaturation of eggs is not as simple as, say, a phase transition of a substance. Each protein species in an egg has multiple possible states on a spectrum of unravelling. Temperature is a statistical measurement, which gives you the average energy of the molecules in the egg - but each molecule will have a different amount of energy. Also, the same amount of energy in the same molecule might be able to lead to two different states, depending on which hydrogen connection broke down first. Add to that the interaction of those proteins with all the other stuff contained in the egg, and the fact that egg white has dozens of different protein species, and it becomes clear that there is no single tempperature at which all molecules in the egg white suddenly change their state.

Instead, you have a wide range of states, from almost-like-raw to cat-played-in-a-box-of-string-ends (or maybe velcro pieces). And pasteurization certainly doesn't give you cooked-through-eggs, but it does cause enough changes that the egg's behavior is no longer the same as with raw egg whites.

Age is not the reason behind the advice. Aged egg whites beat up nicer, as the proteins are somewhat pre-relaxed there. In fact, the most finicky egg white foam applications (like macarons) might include an aging step for the egg whites.

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