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Mary Katherine Morris Photography

Why Do Bartenders Use Egg Whites In Cocktails?

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Mary Katherine Morris Photography

Because it makes the cocktail so much better! Adding eggs to shaken drinks is a tradition that dates back more than a century. Besides novelty, the egg white gives your cocktail a rich, creamy texture and a beautiful foamy cap.

Unpasteurized egg whites are basically odorless and tasteless, so their contribution is almost entirely textural. Just as in a mousse or meringue, drinks that call for an egg white also include citrus juice and some sort of sugar syrup along with the liquor and egg. Agitating this mixture creates luxurious foam. While this element solidifies in mousse or meringue, the foam remains somewhat liquefied in cocktails because of the additional ingredient—the liquor.

Great Shakes

Egg whites are mostly water and proteins. When whipped or shaken, these tightly wound proteins start to unravel and stretch out. At the same time, tiny air bubbles are folded into and trapped in the egg white. As the foam begins to form, the proteins link up in new alignments that reinforce the bubbles’ walls.

Each of the other ingredients plays a role in building a smooth, creamy mouth feel. Acid from the citrus juice strengthens bonds between the protein strands while the sugar elevates the viscosity of the water in the egg white. Bartenders face two challenges that their pastry-chef counterparts don’t have to worry about: Preventing the spread of salmonella and avoiding excessive dilution.

Drink Safely

Drinking raw eggs is delicious, but can it be dangerous? According to the CDC, salmonella can enter an egg either through pores in the shell or during development by an infected hen. Luckily, the bacteria count in most eggs laid by previously infected hens falls well short of the threshold for causing illness.

Preventing clean eggs from becoming salmonella incubators is surprisingly easy. First, buy the freshest eggs available. If possible, purchase directly from a farmer—these eggs can be up to a few weeks fresher than their supermarket equivalents. The newer the egg, the less time bacteria have had to reproduce. 

Further, buying clean, unbroken eggs minimizes the risk that foreign contaminants have been introduced into your dozen. Refrigerating your eggs will keep bacteria from reproducing, and washing your hands before preparation will further prevent germs from ending up in your glass.

Be Cool

To ensure that drinks are mixed thoroughly without being watery, many bartenders employ a technique called the dry shake. In this stage, all the ingredients are combined in a cocktail shaker and shaken without ice. This step allows the egg proteins to begin to unravel and form foam without being diluted by melting ice.

Ice is then added to the shaker to more violently agitate the mixture. This second phase cools the liquid and strengthens the foam. When strained, these drinks will have a velvety texture and beautiful frothy cap almost like a latte. In fact, your bartender may even use a few drops of bitters to decorate the egg foam. 

Hit the Lab

Now that you know the science of using egg whites in a cocktail, it’s time to do some experimenting at your home bar by making an Americano Fizz. Originally, this drink was a play on a classic highball called the Milano e Turino. However, it became so popular with American tourists that it was lovingly renamed the Americano. Somewhere along the line, a creative bartender converted this simple recipe into a fizz by adding an egg white and the tiniest splashes of citrus and simple syrup.

Americano Fizz
1 egg white
1 tsp simple syrup
1 tsp lemon juice
1.25 oz Campari
1.25 oz sweet red vermouth

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously without ice for 7 to 10 seconds, then add ice and shake until cooled through, about 12 to 15 seconds. Strain into a Collins glass over ice and carefully top with a splash of soda water. To avoid spillage, add soda water slowly; the carbonation will add a lot of volume to the egg foam. Enjoy!  

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]