Culinary Arts

What's the Difference Between Egg Yolks and Egg Whites? All About Egg Whites vs. Yolk

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Sep 27, 2019 • 6 min read

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A single chicken egg contains all the nutrition necessary to form a baby chick, making the simple egg one of the most nutritionally complete foods available. That said, there are some key differences between the two components of a whole egg: the white, and the yolk. Read on to learn how egg yolks and egg whites differ, and how each is used in cooking.

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What's the Difference Between Egg Whites vs. Egg Yolks?

The yolk is the yellow part of the egg, and gets its color from plant pigments in the hen’s food. This is the first part that forms when a hen’s egg cells reach maturity. Egg yolks are made primarily of fats, proteins, and essential nutrients.

The white part of the egg (also called the albumen) forms around the yolk later, providing cushioning between the embryo and the protective shell. While the yolk provides most of the nutrition for the embryo, the egg white supplies the embryo with water and protects it from viruses, bacteria, and even predators (proteins found in the white block the digestion of nutrients).

Egg White Nutrition: Calories, Vitamins, and Protein in Egg Whites

Due to their unique composition, egg whites have some important nutritional differences from yolks. Here are some nutrition facts about egg whites.

  • Egg whites are low in calories and fat. Despite making up most of an egg’s volume, the egg white contains only about a quarter of its calories, and has almost zero fat. This means egg whites offer health benefits over whole eggs for people on low-calorie, high-protein diets, and can help with weight loss.
  • Egg whites are high in protein. Egg whites contain more than half of an egg’s overall protein content: in fact, the white of a single large egg packing nearly 4 grams of protein. Egg white is also considered a complete protein, which means that it contains all nine essential amino acids.
  • Egg whites are low in vitamins. Egg whites are generally not a good source of vitamins. However, a serving size of egg white does contain about 12% of the recommended daily nutritional value of riboflavin (aka vitamin B2), an important vitamin for energy production and cell growth.
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Egg Yolk Nutrition: Calories, Vitamins, and Fats in Egg Yolks

Egg yolks have their own nutritional advantages and drawbacks compared to egg whites. Here are some nutrition facts about egg yolks.

  • Egg yolks are rich in vitamins. The yolk is the source of the most of an egg’s vitamins and essential nutrients, including calcium, phosphorus, zinc, thiamin (vitamin B1), vitamin B12, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin D, and vitamin K. Egg yolks also contain as much as 60% of your daily value of choline (based on a 2,000 calorie diet). Finally, egg yolks are a rich source of fat-soluble carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin, which protect your eyes from damage and reduce the risk of cataracts.
  • Egg yolks are high in fat. The yolk contains nearly all of the egg’s total fat: about 4.5–6 grams in one egg yolk. This is just under 10 percent of the daily recommended value. However, much of this comes from healthy fats—that is, omega-3 fatty acids, which cannot be made by our bodies and must be obtained from diet. The rest, about 1.6 grams, come from saturated fats.
  • Egg yolks are high in cholesterol. Yolks are notorious for having one of the highest levels of dietary cholesterol of any food that we eat (about 213 milligrams per yolk), a characteristic once believed to increase risk of cardiovascular disease. However, more recent studies show that large amounts of dietary cholesterol in general (and high egg consumption in particular) don’t necessarily correspond to high cholesterol levels or increased risk of heart disease.

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All About Egg Whites: How to Cook With Egg Whites

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Aside from a healthy spin on scrambled eggs and omelets, there are a variety of recipes that call for just egg whites. In particular, egg whites are used to give a variety of baked goods a fluffy, light texture.

  • Meringue: Aside from sugar, egg whites are the primary ingredient in French meringue, as well as its cousins, Italian meringue and Swiss meringue. The “stiff peaks” of an egg white meringue form the topping of a classic lemon meringue pie, and can also be used to make meringue cookies. Learn more about meringue here.
  • Soufflé: While this notoriously temperamental dish includes both parts of the egg, it’s the egg whites that expand during baking to give a soufflé it’s airy texture. Learn more about soufflé here.
  • Egg Wash: An egg wash made from whites can create a glossy finish on baked goods or help dry ingredients adhere to proteins, as in Gordon Ramsay’s sesame crusted tuna recipe.
  • Macaroons and Macarons: Whipped egg whites bind ingredients together and add an airy texture to gluten-free baked goods, including both coconut macaroons and French macarons.
  • Pie Filling: When combined with egg yolks, lime juice, and sugar, egg whites give the filling of this Key lime pie recipe its light, mousse-like texture.

All About Egg Yolks: How to Cook With Egg Yolks

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In various recipes, yolks are separated from their whites, then used on their own or combined with whole eggs. In addition to adding richness and density, egg yolks often serve an emulsifier, bringing fat, water, and acid together to form a stable mixture.

  • Pasta Dough: In Chef Thomas Keller’s recipe for homemade cavatelli, the combination of whole eggs and egg yolks results in delicate, yellow noodles with a traditional Italian flavor and texture.
  • Mayonnaise: Here, egg yolks bring lemon juice, salt, and oil together to form one of the foundational sauces of all cooking. Mayonnaise can be enjoyed on its own, or serve as a base for salad dressings.
  • Hollandaise and Béarnaise: These classic French sauces call for emulsifying egg yolks with butter, acid, and herbs, and pair well with a variety of proteins and vegetables.
  • Egg Wash: An egg wash made from yolks gives baked goods a rich crust with a deep golden color. For instance, Chef Gordon Ramsay’s signature Beef Wellington recipe uses an egg yolk wash.
  • Vinaigrette: While it’s not required, an egg yolk can make your vinaigrette creamier and prevent the oil and vinegar from separating. Learn how to make a classic vinaigrette with egg yolk here.

What’s the Best Way to Cook Egg Whites vs. Yolks?

Cooking eggs neutralizes protective proteins in the white that attach to vitamins, a defense mechanism that makes the whites inedible to other animals. On the other hand, cooking will also cause eggs to lose some of their nutrients.

It turns out the tastiest way to cook an entire egg is also the most nutritious: fully cook whites, to destroy the egg proteins that interfere with our absorption of nutrients, but keep yolks mostly raw, to preserve their vitamins. That means to maximize nutrition, you’ll want to eat a sunny side-up, soft-boiled, or poached egg—not just an egg white omelet. Be aware, however, that the FDA recommends cooking whites and yolks thoroughly to avoid Salmonella, which can be present in raw eggs and is especially hazardous for people with compromised immune systems.

Want to Become a Better Chef?

Whether you’re just learning the difference between braising and broiling, or you already know how to sear a duck breast to perfection, mastering cooking techniques takes patience and practice. No one knows this better than Gordon Ramsay, who holds seven Michelin stars. In Gordon Ramsay’s MasterClass on making restaurant recipes at home, you’ll learn how to prep, plate, and pair recipes that wow guests. With 13 restaurant-inspired dishes designed for home cooking, like rack of lamb or the perfect soufflé, you’ll be able to build elevated courses from appetizer to dessert using everyday ingredients.

Want to learn more about the culinary arts? The MasterClass All-Access Pass provides exclusive video lessons from master chefs, including Gordon Ramsay, Dominique Ansel, Massimo Bottura, Chef Thomas Keller, Alice Waters, and more.

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