Here’s How to Pasteurize Eggs at Home—But Should You?

Raw eggs are essential for making mayonnaise, meringue, Caesar dressing, and cocktails like whiskey sours. But there are safety concerns about consuming raw, unpasteurized eggs. Here, we take a look at the safety and efficacy of pasteurizing them at home using sous vide, along with instructions on how to do it.

Side view of two eggs
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

There are many excellent culinary uses for raw whole eggs, yolks, and whites, including homemade mayonnaise, Caesar dressing, meringue, and cocktails such as pisco sours and whiskey sours. But there are also some food safety concerns associated with consuming raw eggs, including potential exposure to Salmonella, which can cause stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and—in rare cases—even death.

When you want to make a recipe that calls for raw eggs it's important to understand and mitigate the potential dangers, especially if you plan to serve the dish to anyone who is at greatest risk of becoming seriously ill from Salmonella (more on that below). At the very least, you may want to do as I do and shout, "This has raw eggs!" to anyone who's going to eat your potato salad that's dressed with a raw egg mayo. 

One option for avoiding raw eggs is to buy pasteurized ones. As with other foods like milk, pasteurizing eggs involves heating them to a temperature that destroys pathogens, but does not actually cook them. The main problem is that pasteurized eggs that are still in the shell can be very hard to find at US grocery stores. (It's easier to find pasteurized egg whites in cartons than it is to find whole pasteurized eggs, in our experience.) 

Overhead view of eggs in a carton
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

So what about pasteurizing eggs at home using the precisely controlled temperatures of a sous vide water bath? We found a couple of studies that suggest that this can be an effective method of killing Salmonella, which was more than enough to convince food nerds like us to break out our immersion circulators and try it out while delving into the minutia of pasteurization science.

To learn about the potential safety issues with home egg pasteurization, I spoke with James E. Rogers, Ph.D., the director of food safety research and testing for Consumer Reports. (Rogers holds a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology and described himself as a "food safety curmudgeon" when I previously interviewed him for another article about egg safety for EatingWell—he must wonder why I keep trying to convince him to let me eat raw eggs.) Finally, I put eggs that I pasteurized using a sous vide immersion circulator to the test by making mayonnaise with the yolks and meringue with the whites—would they work as well as raw in these essential applications?

Here's what I learned about the potential benefits and dangers of home-pasteurization, plus instructions on how to home pasteurize if you want to give it a try once you understand the process and its limitations.  

The Potential Dangers of Eating Raw Eggs

The biggest food safety risk associated with raw eggs is Salmonella, especially Salmonella enterica, specifically Salmonella enterica serovar enteritidis (SE). Salmonella can be present on the shells of eggs as well as in the egg whites and yolks. Cooking kills Salmonella, and while fully cooked eggs are the safest, even sunny side up eggs are likely safe. But if there is Salmonella present in raw eggs, people who consume them are at risk of contracting the foodborne illness salmonellosis, which, as mentioned above, can cause gastrointestinal distress, hospitalization, and even death. 

The good news is that at the time of this article's publication (July, 2024), the CDC had no reports of active Salmonella outbreak investigations related to commercially distributed eggs in the US. Of course, that can change at any time. And while Salmonella enterica is the most common foodborne pathogen associated with eggs, there are other pathogens that have been linked to eggs, including Listeria, a pathogen that can cause illness and serious pregnancy complications, including miscarriage and stillbirth.

Side view of cracking an egg
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

The highest risk groups for contracting and becoming seriously ill from salmonellosis include those with weakened immune systems, adults age 65 and older, children under five, and pregnant people, according to the CDC and other sources. But if you're a healthy 68 year old with a passion for Caesar salads, are we going to tell you to never eat unpasteurized raw eggs? No, we are not, because we understand that people take calculated risks all the time and the occasional consumption of a raw egg is not at the top of the list of most dangerous things people regularly do. (The fact is leafy greens are linked to far more recalls and foodborne illnesses than eggs, so if it's a numbers game you're playing, you might as well skip that Caesar altogether.)

For legal reasons, though, we need to be very clear that experts and food safety authorities like Rogers and the CDC decidedly disagree with our more flexible attitude, and so the official guidance is to avoid raw eggs, especially among those in the defined high-risk groups. If you have any concerns at all, you should follow that official guidance.

For the rest of us, it's really a cost-benefit analysis. Like me and most of the Serious Eats staff, you might decide that the risks are worth the reward. Or, you might be like Rogers, and take a more "conservative" approach and choose to avoid raw eggs unless they've been commercially pasteurized.

Understanding the Science of Pasteurization: Assessing Risk by the Numbers

The thing about doing a food safety cost-benefit analysis is you need to understand the underlying data and logic before you can make any informed decisions of your own. So before we dive into at-home egg pasteurization and its potential benefits and limitations, we first need to learn how food-borne illness risks are assessed and mitigated by health and food authorities.

In the case of eggs, the goal is not necessarily to reduce the number of bacteria in a given egg to zero—which is often impossible without rendering the food inedible—but to reduce it to a level at which the risk of causing illness is tolerably low from a public-health standpoint. Because bacteria can number in the tens or hundreds of thousands (if not more) in a contaminated serving of food, the goal of pasteurization is to drive the number of bacteria down exponentially until safe levels are reached.

This exponential decrease in bacteria is expressed mathematically as a log reduction, in which each reduction represents a tenfold decrease in the number of surviving bacteria: In a 1-log reduction, one in ten bacteria will survive; in a 2-log reduction, one in 100 bacteria will survive; and in a 3-log reduction, one in 1,000 bacteria will survive. It continues in powers of ten from there.

According to USDA guidelines, a 5-log reduction is the standard for pasteurized eggs. This translates to a 100,000-fold decrease in bacterial colony forming units (CFUs), which can also be expressed as a 99.999% reduction. Wow, I can hear some of you thinking, a 99.999% reduction in nasty bacteria sounds pretty dang good to me! And based on the fact that a lot of very smart scientists came up with that guideline, you're probably right. But percentages can be deceptive, so let's look more closely at the raw numbers—it will help us to understand home pasteurization risks later.

First, it helps to know that even a single viable salmonella cell can cause infection. Just one! Sure, the risk is low—this study states that consuming a single viable cell of salmonella comes with a .25% probability of illness—but the risk is there. How common is it to encounter eggs contaminated with salmonella in the US? According to CDC estimates, only 1 in every 20,000 eggs in the US is. As you can see, the odds are in any one individual's favor, but multiplied across a large population of eager egg eaters (say that three times fast), and the risks of illness become more considerable. The CDC estimates that salmonella causes "about 1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths in the United States every year."

Next, let's factor in how much unwanted bacteria one is likely to find in a single contaminated egg. According to this study, the average number of CFUs varies heavily depending on many factors but is somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 on the shell alone (not including the interior whites and yolk, which can also be infected, though to a lesser extent). Based on this, even at the higher end of the average range, the USDA guideline of a 5-log reduction would tend to get us down to a sole surviving viable bacterium.

What does that 5-log reduction via egg pasteurization translate to in terms of real-world infections? According to a 2005 USDA and FDA risk assessment, a 5-log reduction is enough to lower the total number of infections annually in the US from 130K to 19K. As you can see, it's not enough to get the risk of infection down to zero, but it's a considerable reduction with a clear public health benefit.

At this point, it's critical to point out that egg pasteurization doesn't happen in a vacuum. There are scores of variables that can complicate the picture. Things like storage temperatures before and after pasteurization will have a huge effect on these numbers—improper storage can pretty much undo any benefit created by pasteurization, which should be taken into account for all stages of egg handling, but also for storage of foods made with raw or pasteurized eggs. Meaning, just because you're using pasteurized eggs in an uncooked dish doesn't mean you can get sloppy with food handling and storage. One careless step like letting the food sit out at room temperature for too long and what had been a low-risk meal could grow into a mouthful of misery.

At-Home Sous Vide Egg Pasteurization 101

I know you've had to read a lot to get to this point, but it's all going to be very useful in making a decision about whether you're comfortable attempting to pasteurize eggs at home or not.

If you search around, you are likely to find several different methods of at-home pasteurization, but the most reliable research and methods we found are focused specifically on sous vide pasteurization, which makes sense—pasteurization is largely about highly precise temperature control over extended periods of time, and that is exactly what the immersion circulators used for sous vide cooking do well. When submerged in a pot or other vessel of water, they can maintain a set temperature for extended periods of time while continuously circulating the heated water to minimize variations in temperature. This ability to hold a precise temperature over time makes them the most compelling tool for home pasteurization.

Overhad view of eggs in sous vide
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

As Kenji notes in his guide to sous vide chicken, the reduction in bacterial loads in food is a function of both temperature and time. With eggs, the key is to hold the eggs at the correct temperature for long enough for the heat to penetrate all the way to the center of the egg, since Salmonella and other pathogens can be present throughout the egg—not just on the shell, as is a common misconception.

What is the correct temperature for pasteurized eggs? Generally speaking, it's one that is hot enough that, given enough time, it can significantly lower the risk of pathogens but still cool enough that the egg retains its ability to function like a raw one in a recipe. We found more specific time and temperature guidelines in a couple different research papers. In "Immersion Heat Treatments for Inactivation of Salmonella Enteritidis With Intact Eggs," published in 1997 in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, they tested pasteurizing eggs for 50 to 57.5 minutes at a water temperature of 58°C (136.4°F) and within 65-75 min at 57°C (134.6°F), and found that at this range, "Six pooled strains of Salm. enteritidis (ca 3 x 10(8) cfu, inoculated near the centre of the yolk) were completely inactivated," leading the study authors to conclude, "Immersion-heated shell eggs could provide Salmonella-free ingredients for the preparation of a variety of minimally-cooked foods of interest to consumers and foodservice operators."

A second study, "Inactivation of Salmonella in Shell Eggs by Hot Water Immersion and Its Effect on Quality," published in 2016 in the Journal of Food Science, tested eggs at various times and temperatures and also looked at the quality of the eggs pasteurized through hot water immersion. They found that the strains of Salmonella they tested were reduced by 4.5 log at both hot water immersion treatments of 56.7°C (134.06°F) for 60 minutes and 55.6°C (132.08°F) for 100 minutes. A 4.5-log reduction translates to a 99.997% reduction in pathogens, or roughly three surviving viable bacteria per 100,000.

They also looked at the quality of eggs treated with heat immersion and found that while the yolks were largely unaffected, the whites were altered enough that they performed differently in whipping tests, taking much longer to whip. "In summary, the hot water immersion process inactivated heat resistant SE in shell eggs by 4.5 log, but also significantly affected several egg quality characteristics," the authors report.

Is Pasteurizing Eggs at Home Safe?

So, phrases like "completely inactivated" and 99.997% reduction sound great, right? Well, not so fast, says Rogers. He has a number of concerns with home-pasteurization. For starters, while commercially pasteurized eggs have been subjected to rigorous standards to be sure the time, temperature, and method is the exact same every time, and a portion of the eggs are also tested after pasteurization to be sure the pathogens are dead, there are numerous points in the home-pasteurization process when things can go off the rails.

"You're expecting consumers to get that right every time—that their temperature is right, that their thermometer is accurate, that the sous vide machine readout is accurate," Rogers says. "The problem is that we know from studies that you could ask consumers, 'How many times did you wash your hands?' They'll say five and then if you look up the video it might have been one, right?" He says if you cut corners, cut down on time, or if your thermometer or immersion circulator is off by a couple of degrees, any Salmonella that's present could be passed along to the final dish and make you or your guests sick.

Overhead view of eggs
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Rogers says it's also important to take into account variables like how many eggs you're pasteurizing and the fact that the heat needs to penetrate all the way to the center of the yolk for the proper amount of time in order for the eggs to be properly pasteurized. " I think that there are so many variables that a consumer would have to get right in order to lower their risk," he says. That said, he concedes that while he would never be convinced that the method is guaranteed to work, he does allow that home pasteurization—if done exactly right every time—could lower the risk.

While I may have made marginal headway in my game of "Convince Jim Rogers to Let Me Eat Raw Eggs," I have to accept that I am never going to get a food safety stickler to fully endorse home pasteurization. But based on my research—and despite the shortcomings—I think I can safely say that using a sous vide setup to pasteurize eggs can reduce the risks of eating raw eggs far more than simply throwing up your hands and saying, "Aw, screw it, I'm just gonna eat raw-egg mayo because I have no hope of ever meeting the official guidelines."

All in all, we can pretty safely conclude the following:

  • Home pasteurization using sous vide is inherently prone to human and machine error, and therefore is not nearly as reliable or safe as commercial pasteurization.
  • The hot water method's estimated 4.5-log reduction as described in the 2016 Journal of Food Science study would significantly lower infection risk, assuming the process is done correctly and the gear is properly calibrated and in working order. To emphasize Rogers' point, that's a pretty big "if," but even if we do avoid human and mechanical error, it's still not as effective as commercially pasteurized eggs' 5-log reduction.

Does this mean I would serve home-pasteurized raw eggs to an elderly, immunocompromised, or pregnant friend, relative, or stranger? No. I do not want to kill grandma. But I myself feel totally comfortable eating the mayo and meringue made with the eggs pasteurized with sous vide following the recommended times and temperatures.

Home pasteurization is arguably a lot better than doing nothing, so if you're a raw egg lover who also owns an immersion circulator, it seems to me it's worth taking this extra step to reduce risk. 

Tested: How Well Do Sous-Vide Pasteurized Eggs Work in Mayos and Meringues

All of the above is the theory. Now we need to consider the practical side: How do sous-vide pasteurized eggs work in the types of recipes that require raw eggs?

To find out, we took out a trusty immersion circulator and tested a batch of 11 large eggs at a temperature of 135°F (57.2°C) for 90 minutes, starting from the time the water bath reached 135°F (57.2°C). We arrived at this temperature and timeframe by slightly padding both the ideal temperature and time of 65 to 75 minutes at 57°C (134.6°F) outlined in the paper "Immersion Heat Treatments for Inactivation of Salmonella Enteritidis With Intact Eggs." The eggs were fully submerged in a large pot with enough space for the water to circulate freely around them. After the 90 minutes at 135°F, we immediately transferred the eggs to an ice bath to quickly cool them to a safe holding temperature. 

Results: Home-Pasteurized Eggs Compared to Unpasteurized Eggs in Recipes

Appearance and texture: After chilling the eggs, I separated the yolks from the whites and examined them. The yolks looked completely unchanged by the process, but the whites were noticeably cloudy and felt a bit more viscous than I'd expect for a truly raw egg, signs that some of the proteins in the egg white had started to coagulate. "It's not solid or semi-solid like a soft boiled egg, but there are still some changes probably going on with that white," says Rogers of the lengthy exposure to moderate heat.

After the visual examination, I put the eggs to the test in two popular recipes that are dependent on a raw egg's ability to emulsify fats (mayo) and trap air (whipped egg whites)—two things that cooked eggs are not nearly as capable of doing, if at all. 

Mayonnaise test: For my first test, I used one home-pasteurized egg yolk, 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1 cup of extra-virgin olive oil, and kosher salt to whisk together a basic mayonnaise. The mayo came together exactly as I would expect it to with an unpasteurized egg—the egg emulsified the mixture beautifully and fairly quickly. The flavor and texture were also excellent, so I consider this test a total success. The only way it would have been more successful is if we had some cold poached lobster or crab to dip into the mayonnaise. 

Overhead view of whisking
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Meringue test: For this test, I enlisted the help of pastry pro Genieve Yam to make meringue with the egg whites following the French meringue in her meringue cookie recipe, although instead of baking the meringue into cookies, we left it unbaked as you would if you wanted to use the meringue to top a pie.

The egg whites took more than double the time of  unpasteurized eggs to get frothy and then to be whipped into an airy meringue. Rogers says this is likely to be due to the denaturing of the proteins—the same thing that made the egg whites cloudy. But after the extra-long whipping time in the stand mixer, the egg white–sugar mixture did eventually transform into a meringue that I'd describe as a success. The volume was slightly less than I would have expected from a truly raw egg, but the final texture and flavor of the meringue were excellent. 

How to Pasteurize Eggs at Home Using Sous Vide

If you decide to pasteurize eggs at home using sous vide after reading about the possible risks, here's how to do it. Note that while Salmonella grows very slowly at refrigerator temperatures, I still recommend using eggs you've home-pasteurized immediately rather than storing them. And keep in mind that if there is any Salmonella present in the eggs, it can repopulate over time, so eating food made with the eggs sooner rather than later is the best bet. It's especially important not to let it sit out for more than two hours (one hour at higher temperatures). 

  1. Start with fresh eggs with no visible shell damage, such as cracks. 
  2. Submerge up to a dozen eggs in a large pot of water fitted with an immersion circulator. Be sure there is space around the eggs for the water to circulate freely.
  3. Set the immersion circulator to 135°F (57.2°C). Once the temperature has reached 135°F (57.2°C), start a timer for 90 minutes.
  4. Using a high-quality instant-read or probe thermometer, continuously monitor the temperature of the water bath to confirm the immersion circulator is maintaining the set temperature. 
  5. After 90 minutes, immediately transfer the eggs to an ice bath. Use the whole eggs, whites, or yolks as you would regular raw eggs. 
Overhead view of eggs in ice bath
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

The Verdict

Though it's not guaranteed to work, we believe that home pasteurization using sous vide is a good method of improving the safety of raw eggs. The eggs we tested with this method worked well in recipes, though egg whites took longer to whip. Overall, if you are concerned about the risks of raw eggs and can get your hands on commercially pasteurized raw eggs, that would be the best choice in recipes that call for raw egg, but we like the sous vide method as an alternate way to reduce—but not eliminate—the dangers of eating raw eggs.

This 15-Minute Maple-Mustard Broiled Salmon Uses the Power of Mayo for Good

Broiled salmon is just as easy to prep as baked salmon, but it has a better texture and flavor. Here’s how to make broiled salmon with a simple maple-mustard-mayo spread in 15 minutes from start to finish.

Side view of broiled salmon
Serious Eats / Jordan Provost

I always have a stash of wild salmon fillets in my freezer that I typically turn to for a quick dinner once or twice a week. I have many different ways of dressing it up—miso, sour cream and dill, lemon and pepper, Creole spice blend, etc.—but my most frequent way of preparing salmon is slathering it with the simple maple-mustard mayo I'm sharing here.

Side view of eating salmon
Serious Eats / Jordan Provost

Maple and mustard may seem like odd bedfellows, but it's a combination I learned works very well after seeing it in this EatingWell recipe developed by Carolyn Malcoun. (I worked in EatingWell's Vermont offices for a couple of years and I learned about the many great uses for the state's excellent maple syrup in the EatingWell test kitchen.) Over the years, I've played with that base recipe, tweaking the proportions, ingredients, and technique, to land on what to me is the perfect maple-mustard salmon formula. Read on for my tips for making this 15-minute salmon and to get the full recipe. 

7 Tips for the Best Maple-Mustard Salmon

  1. Don't be afraid of frozen salmon. Unless you happen to be in the Pacific Northwest or Alaska during salmon season, the chances that you are getting wild salmon that hasn't been previously frozen are low. A lot of "fresh" salmon has been thawed at the market before you bought it. But when you buy frozen salmon, you get excellent quality fish that was frozen shortly after being caught (often it's done right on the ship). As I mentioned above, I always have wild salmon—which I prefer in flavor and texture to farmed—in my freezer. That's because I belong to a community supported fishery (CSF), which means I pay a fisher-owned collective in advance for a giant box of flash-frozen salmon fillets that I pick up locally once a year. (If you are interested in joining a CSF, check out Seafood Finder's Local Catch Network, which is how I found my CSF, Illiamna.) 
  2. Broil, don't bake. One of my main tweaks to how I prepare salmon was inspired by Daniel's broiled salmon with harissa-lime mayonnaise. As he notes in the headnote for the recipe, broiling rather than baking the fish allows you to sear the outside with an intense blast of heat while leaving the interior tender and juicy. 
  3. Add some fat in the form of mayo. Also inspired by Daniel's harissa-lime salmon, I added some mayo as an "insulator" to help keep the salmon moist and tender. As a Southerner, I believe in the power of mayonnaise to improve most foods, so I wasn't too surprised that adding some mayo to the combination of mustard and mayo had not just texture benefits, but also flavor benefits—the fat in the mayo really rounds out the mustard (there's a reason Dijonaise exists). And because wild salmon is typically leaner than farmed, a little extra fat is welcome. 
  4. Use real maple syrup. I hope this goes without saying, but for the best flavor make sure to buy real maple syrup (and store it in the fridge), not the fake stuff. If you don't have maple syrup on hand, the recipe also works well with brown sugar. 
  5. Add a tiny bit of heat with chiles. Another element of this recipe that I cribbed from Carolyn Malcoun's baked salmon recipe is the addition of a smoked paprika or chipotle powder. Either one will add a hint of smokiness and a bit of heat for a nice contrast to the sweet maple syrup and tangy Dijon. Simple cayenne pepper works too, and I also love Diaspora Co.'s Sirārakhong Hāthei chiles. 
  6. Consider making extra mayo-mustard-maple mixture. The recipe below makes just enough sauce to slather the salmon but if you'd like to serve more on the side as a sauce—which I highly recommend—simply double the first four ingredients in the recipe. It's particularly nice to have extra to serve on leftover cold salmon in a salad. 
  7. Scale the recipe up or down to suit your needs. This recipe serves four to six, but more often than not I scale it down to one or two portions and eyeball the ingredients for the mayo-mustard-maple mixture. The combo is very forgiving: As long as you use about half as much mustard as mayo and half as much maple syrup as mustard you'll be good to go when scaling down (just reverse that formula for scaling up).
Overhead view of broiled salmon
Serious Eats / Jordan Provost

All you need to complete the meal is a quick side or two. When I really want to keep the whole dinner prep to 15 minutes, while the fish is in the broiler I cook some couscous on the stovetop in broth (which takes about five minutes) and steam some vegetables such as broccoli or asparagus in the microwave, which takes about three minutes. I dress the veg and couscous with lemon zest and juice and olive oil and/or the extra mayo-mustard mixture and I'm good to go. 

Preheat broiler and set oven rack to about 6 inches below broiler element. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, mustard, maple syrup, and smoked paprika, chipotle powder, or cayenne (if using). Season with salt and pepper; feel free to adjust flavor and heat level by adding more paprika, if desired.

Overhead view of salmon sauce
Serious Eats / Jordan Provost

Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Lightly season salmon all over with salt and pepper. Set salmon on prepared baking sheet and rub a thin, even layer of the maple-mustard mixture all over the surface and sides.

Two image collage of salting salmon and adding marinade
Serious Eats / Jordan Provost

Broil salmon until browned on top and the center registers 115 to 125°F (46 to 52°C) for medium-rare to medium, respectively, about 5 minutes; it can help to keep the oven door cracked while salmon is cooking to prevent the broiler from cycling on and off (though not all ovens function this way). If salmon becomes well browned on top before it is cooked enough in the center, switch off the broiler and set the oven to 425°F (220°C), then continue cooking until done (this shouldn't take more than 1 to 2 minutes longer).

Overhead view of salmon after being broiled
Serious Eats / Jordan Provost

Transfer salmon to plates or a platter and serve.

Overhead view of broiled salmon
Serious Eats / Jordan Provost

I Pitched “Hangry” for Dictionary Inclusion in 2003 and Was Rejected

More than 20 years ago, I pitched the word “hangry” on the radio show The Next Big Thing. The hosts were not convinced. Here’s my story.

A mug that says
Serious Eats / Unsplash

One day in the spring of 2003—before Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and the iPhone, and around the same time that the first podcasts came to be—I was listening to one of my favorite radio shows, The Next Big Thing, which aired on WNYC and was syndicated by Public Radio International from 2000 to 2005. When they got to a segment called "What’s Your Word?" in which listeners pitched words they thought should be in the dictionary to the show’s host, Dean Olsher, and lexicographer and Wordnik founder Erin McKean (who at the time was an editor at the New Oxford American Dictionary and Verbatim), I called in with two food-related words that I thought would be sure hits: "breastaurant" and "hangry."

History would prove me right about one of the words, but at the time, Olsher and McKean weren’t sold. I caught up with the two of them in May of 2024—21 years after the segment first aired on May 9, 2003—to get their reflections on my words. We discussed the very slow and then very quick rise of “hangry,” which has been around since at least the 1910s, but didn’t reach cultural saturation until around 2015 and only made it into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2018, but can now be found printed on socks, T-shirts, tote bags, and (of course) in magazines, newspapers, and websites, with no explanation needed. Our discussion of the two words also provides a fascinating (to this particular word geek, anyway) look behind the curtain at the often unpredictable way some words climb into regular, dictionary-approved usage and some don't.

McKean also makes the excellent point that print dictionaries have a motive to limit their lexicon at least in part because of the physical nature of the product—in the digital age, there's no need for such limits, and language can evolve much more quickly. Philosophy of language aside, poring through the archives of The Next Big Thing to look back at past predictions with the benefit of hindsight was a fun exercise, which I highly recommend when you have some time to spare.

Skip to minute 37:55 in the episode "It’s Not Over" on the WNYC website to listen to the full May 9, 2003 “What’s Your Word?” segment or to 43:25 for just my bit, or read on for the transcript of my call, then continue below for my recent Q&A with McKean and Olsher.

Pitching Hangry: Full 2003 Transcript

Dean: Hi, who's this?

Megan: This is Megan Steintrager.

Dean: Megan, where are you calling from?

Megan: I am actually calling from Yonkers, where I work, and I live in New York City.

Dean: And you have a word for us?

Megan: I do. My word is "breastaurant." [Erin and Dean laugh]

Dean: Like Hooters? Would Hooters be a breastaurant?

Megan: Yep, you got it right away. And my mother actually came up with this word, which I think is pretty funny. She was just driving by and she said, “Have you kids ever been to that breastaurant?” We were all floored.

Dean: Is it spelled “b-r-e-s” or “b-r-e-a-s”?

Megan: I spell it “b-r-e-a-s.” I actually have another word if I can pitch that too.

Erin: What’s the other one?

Dean: Go for it!

Megan: It kind of ties into breastaurant.

Erin: Please don't tell me it’s like the male chain…

Megan: [Interrupts Erin] No, no, no, no. It's, uh, “hangry.”

Erin: Hangry?

Megan: Hangry.

Erin: When you’re so hungry, you're just ready to rip someone's head off?

Megan: Exactly! It comes up a lot on road trips, you know, when you can't find anywhere to eat.

Dean: You’re getting so hangry…

Megan: Or you're stuck in a meeting that's going through lunch.

Erin: Or that uncomfortable early evening time, when it's not time for dinner yet, yet lunch was so very far away.

Megan: Right, yes. I had one boyfriend who always wanted to go out for a drink before dinner and so I would be, like, secretly having a meal before we went out so that I didn't become hangry.

Dean: I've totally done that. I'm guessing that Megan's gonna have an easier time with “breastaurant” than with “hangry,” right?

Erin: I’m thinking that there's already a method for making words that mean anger connected to something. We have “desk rage,” and “computer rage,” and “road rage,” and “plane rage.”

Megan: [sounding disappointed] Right. So it’d be “hunger rage.”

Erin: Yeah.

Megan: [sounding defeated and resigned] Yeah.

Dean: Well listen, Megan, thank you very much.

Megan: Thank you.

Dean: Okay.

Megan: All right.

Dean: Be well.

Megan: Bye.

Dean Olsher and Erin McKean Share Their Thoughts on Hangry in 2024

As I mentioned above, I recently caught up with Olsher and McKean via email to ask them why they were so sure that “hangry” wouldn’t be the huge success it’s become. They were great sports about it. Read on for the details.

Megan: Could you give a little history/background of the “What’s Your Word?” segment you hosted on the Next Big Thing?

Erin: I went back and checked my email (I'm a digital packrat, I keep everything) and it looks like I got an email from Dean Olsher in January of 2002. At that point I'd been working for Oxford University Press for about a year and a half or so. He wanted to do “something language related” for the show, and we had a call and batted around some ideas. The first segment aired in April of 2002, I think.

Megan: When you heard my pitch of “hangry,” what was it that made you think it wouldn’t take off? Could you speculate on why you had the original reaction you had to my pitch?

Erin: I think I'm going to have to borrow a famous reply of Samuel Johnson's here and say, "Ignorance, madam, pure ignorance." One of the things I love about working with words is that sometimes we just don't know why one word succeeds and another fails, or why a word has a moment of popularity and then falls from favor.

When I was working on traditional dictionaries, our big constraint was the size of the printed book—so we were more in a mode of looking for reasons NOT to include a word.

Dean: Wow, we really blew it on this one, didn't we? I'm surprised that I didn't embrace the word wholeheartedly, because it makes me think of a funny memory from college. During my junior year in France, I led an English conversation group at the American Library in town. One day a guy said: "When I wake up in the morning, I am very angry, and I hit a lot." The rest of us in the room exchanged worried glances until we realized that he was hungry and ate a lot.

Megan: What is it about “hangry” that you think has caught on?

Erin: In retrospect, I think I underestimated how fun it is to say. It lends itself to exaggeration…"I'm hangggggggry."

Megan: According to my research the earliest known use of hangry was in 1910. Why do you think the word didn’t take off sooner, or even when I pitched it, and then became so ubiquitous?

Erin: It's so hard to say—this is absolutely a word that could have been used more in speech and not made it into print (it's very informal). And the kinds of people who got their writing printed were for a long time the kind of people who almost always had enough to eat, or who weren't expected to be on diets. So perhaps they just didn't ever get hangry. The citations in the OED are interesting in that of the five citations; two are about animals, and one is using the word as an example of contraction; only two are about people, and both of those are after 2000.

Megan: What do you think about hangry being added to the OED in 2018?

Erin: I'm all for it! I believe every word deserves a place in the dictionary—the dictionary I work on now, Wordnik, has included 'hangry' since at least Sept 2015, according to the Wayback Machine.

Megan: Are there other food words you can remember that you called or didn’t call over the years?

Erin: None spring immediately to mind…

Dean: Well, this would only be a food word for zombies, but Erin once assigned some arcane words to John Linnell to work into a They Might Be Giants song. That's how he ended up writing "Contrecoup," which describes a type of brain injury.

Megan: Any thoughts on the next hangry? I.e. what are some food words that are bubbling under the surface now and might take off in 10 or 20 years?

Erin: I saved a citation for “nutritionism” the other day, meaning "the reduction of food to its macro- and micro-nutritional components" (from the always interesting "Second Breakfast" newsletter). I'm also seeing a lot of references to "food noise" (constant intrusive thoughts about food), especially since semaglutide drugs seem to turn them off.

Korean food terms seem to be getting more popular, from dishes such as tteokbokki, ingredients like gochujang, and practices like mukbang videos.

I'm also amused by "batchie" or "batch brew"—coffee brewed in large batches, as opposed to single-serving pour-overs. Everything old is new again…

Megan: Now for the other word I pitched: What do you think today about “breastaurant?” Why hasn’t it taken off?

Erin: I think because it mostly refers to one well-known chain, so…people just would use the name of the chain. :)  We do include it in Wordnik, though, and have since 2015, with a number of citations. So I wouldn't call it a failure, it's just not a high-frequency word.

Dean: To be honest, while breastaurant did feel like a contender 20+ years ago, I think we're going to have to wait for the Zeitgeist to come around again on that one.

Anything else you’d like Serious Eats readers to know about your work today?

Erin: I never really liked being the bouncer at the dictionary nightclub...I want to let all the words in to dance! These days I run Wordnik, a nonprofit, online English dictionary where our goal is to include all the words of English—including the 52% of English words that aren't included in traditional dictionaries. One of the ways people can support the project is by adopting their favorite words—I checked and "hangry" and "breastaurant" are both available. :)

Dean: Nowadays I'm a music therapist. And I recently released my debut album! Letters of Transit is at deanolsher.bandcamp.com.

Relive Your Childhood Summers With This Banana Split Recipe

Make a perfect banana split, loaded with three types of ice cream, three sauces, nuts, whipped cream, cherries, and anything else you want to throw on top.

Side view of banana split
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

When I was a kid, most “junk food” was forbidden in my household, but ice cream was a fairly frequent treat. Looking back, I think this had a lot to do with my mom’s own love for the frozen dessert—she was happy to ban the fluorescent cheese puffs she didn’t personally like, but she wasn’t going to deprive us of the same joy that ice cream brought her. Love for frozen dairy runs deep in my family: Ice cream cones at the parlor and homemade root beer floats were a fixture of beach trips with my mom’s side of the family, and seeking out the best ice cream is still a key part of any family outing. I have pictures of my niece clutching an ice cream cone in gloved hands on a freezing, drizzly spring day in Vermont, so the fondness does not skip any generations—nor is it weather dependent.

Side view of a messy banana split
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

But of all the frozen treats I’ve eaten—and there have been enough that I’ve even written a whole book about ice cream—the one that I am most nostalgic about is my very first banana split, which I shared with my Granddaddy O’Niell when I was a little girl. While the details of the ice cream parlor where this banana split was eaten are fuzzy, I vividly recall my absolute wonder at the pairing of ice cream with bananas, another favorite treat. I was also wowed by the variety of ice cream flavors and toppings, as well as the sheer size of the dessert, which made it perfect for sharing—because sharing with a beloved family member certainly has as much to do with the tenacity of this memory in my mind as my love of ice cream. Proust’s madeleines and all that. 

Side view of Banana Split
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

My late grandfather was on my mind as I set about developing a recipe for my ideal banana split: scoops of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry ice cream—evoking the “Neapolitan” cartons of Breyers from my childhood—nestled onto a banana halved lengthwise and topped with fudge sauce, caramel sauce, and strawberry sauce. There is, of course, whipped cream, as well as crushed walnuts, and at least one maraschino cherry for each scoop of ice cream, along with some of the syrup from the cherry jar. Last but not least, the banana split must be served with two spoons for sharing. It’s a version that fits my childhood memory perfectly, and I can picture myself digging into this massive sundae with my grandfather. One of the many great things about banana splits, though, is how customizable they are, so use this recipe and the tips below as a loose guide for creating your own ideal banana split—one that reminds you of your own youth, or one you might fondly remember 40 years from now. 

History of the Banana Split

As with many foods, the question of who invented the banana split is up for debate. According to NPR reporter Nancy Baggett, most sundae experts credit David Strickler, a pharmacy clerk in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, with the invention of the banana split in 1904. Baggett and several other sources, however, note that, Wilmington, Ohio, also claims to be the birthplace of the banana split, with their version making its debut three years after Strickler’s in 1907.

“On a cold winter day in 1907, Wilmington restaurant owner Ernest Hazard held a contest among his employees to see who could come up with the most interesting food creation,” Nathan Havenner wrote in the June 2017 issue of Ohio Magazine. “Hazard himself created the winning idea by putting three scoops of vanilla ice cream between a banana sliced lengthwise and finishing it with chocolate, strawberry, and pineapple toppings. His cousin Clifton Hazard christened it the banana split.” While Pennsylvania and Ohio may continue to have a friendly food fight about the treat’s birthplace, there is more consensus about the name of the treat—most people agree it’s called a split because of the way the banana is split in half vertically to form the base of the sundae.

Tips for Banana Split Success

Set out your mise en place. It might sound funny to apply a term associated with professional cooking to a banana split, but having all your components prepped and ready to go before you assemble your sundae is critical if you want to serve actual banana splits, not melted banana split soup. As they say on The Bear, “every second counts,” and you want to be able to move quickly. Having everything set out is particularly important if you are making more than one banana split and/or letting people assemble their own. If you are making a particularly large number of splits, I recommend pre-scooping the ice cream onto a sheet pan and sticking the whole thing in your freezer until it’s time to assemble. 

Overhead view of mis en place for banana split
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez


Keep the sugar in check. Here’s another thing that might be strange to say about a dessert: Take it easy on the sugar. But with a dessert that’s full of sweet ice cream and syrups, I like some of my toppings to be completely sugar-free to balance the flavors and keep the split from being a one-dimensional wall of sweetness. I recommend unsweetened (or very lightly sweetened) whipped cream, as well as a topping of simple toasted nuts rather than the saccharine wet walnuts that sometimes come on ice cream parlor sundaes. I also prefer to use Luxardo cherries, which are slightly less cloying than some other maraschinos. 


Get creative with the toppings. An informal poll of Serious Eats staffers and a perusal of some popular ice cream parlor splits reveals that the only “mandatory” ingredients for a banana split are bananas, ice cream, whipped cream, cherries, and at least one sauce. So mix up the toppings however you want. Add crushed pineapple, macerated fruit, syrups such as butterscotch or peanut butter, sprinkles, and crushed cookies, or go streamlined with just one flavor of ice cream and the mandatory toppings.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk cream on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form, about 2 minutes. Fit a piping bag with desired piping tip. Using a flexible spatula, gently scrape whipped cream into prepared piping bag. Set aside in refrigerator until ready to use. (See notes.)

Bowl of whipped cream.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

In a banana split dish or large bowl, place halved banana on dish cut side up. Top with 1 scoop vanilla ice cream, 1 scoop chocolate ice cream, and 1 scoop strawberry ice cream. Drizzle ice cream with desired sauces and garnish with toasted walnuts. Pipe whipped cream onto each scoop of ice cream and top each mound of whipped cream with a maraschino cherry. Serve immediately.

Four image collage of building banana split
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

Stand mixer,  piping bag, piping tip, ice cream scoop

Notes

This recipe can be easily doubled, tripled, quadrupled, or gazoopled. You can also make a mini split by using half a banana, one scoop of ice cream, and a small (but not too small!) amount of sauce and toppings.

To easily slice the bananas, cut first, then peel.

If using a hand mixer, place heavy cream and whisk on medium speed until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes. Store-bought whipped cream can be substituted for homemade whipped cream.

If you do not have a piping bag, you can use a spoon to dollop whipped cream onto the ice cream instead.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, and strawberry sauce can be refrigerated in airtight containers for up to a week.