When embarking on their culinary careers, great chefs recognize that the key to creating delicious food is staying true to their ingredients. At the heart of these truths is, “Good in; good out.” If they put the best ingredients into cooking, they’ll get the best food out of them. But with so many product and ingredient choices at their fingertips, how can they be sure they’re picking the best quality ingredients available?
USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) takes the guesswork out of that process by developing, maintaining and interpreting specific measurements of quality through U.S. standards and grades for a wide variety of agricultural products. AMS also offers voluntary services to producers and suppliers to certify products to those standards.
The AMS Livestock, Poultry and Seed Program’s Quality Assessment Division (QAD) works with culinary schools to educate future chefs on how standards and grades for meat, poultry, and shell eggs are a valuable tool to have in their toolbox. Recently, AMS employees visited Delta College in Stockton, California, to provide a hands-on egg quality workshop to their culinary school students.
Using a special device called a “candling light,” these chefs-in-training took a peek inside some fresh eggs. By shining the high-powered light right through the shell and then spinning the egg around, they can detect what is invisible from the outside – internal defects like dark spots, or a watery albumen (egg white). Then, taking those same eggs and breaking the contents out onto plates, they compared what was seen during “candling” with the actual quality of the egg’s contents.
Not only is “candling” fun, but it gave these students a whole new appreciation for how selecting the right ingredients can make a big impact on their final dish! For example, a U.S. Grade AA or A egg has a firm albumen that stays compact when broken out, while a lower quality egg’s albumen is watery and spreads out thin – guess which one is better for making Eggs Benedict?
AMS quality standards, grading, certification and auditing are voluntary tools and services that industry can use to help promote and communicate quality and wholesomeness to consumers. These services assist businesses in differentiating themselves from their competition and provide assurance to their customers of their commitment to quality. Annually, AMS grades, audits, certifies and/or inspects over $150 billion worth of agricultural products, ensuring the quality of domestic goods and helping American farms and businesses export goods to over 100 different countries.
AMS has brochures available which illustrate the standards and grades of shell eggs, as well as a variety of other commodities, and frequently conducts outreach activities to educate buyers and sellers on the importance of AMS’ grading and certification services. For more information, visit the AMS website at www.ams.usda.gov/grades-standards/eggs.