Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Vocabulary of Eggs - Brazilian-style

When they talk about eggs, or at least chicken eggs, the English speakers of the world generally divide them into two colors - white and brown. Some have a distinct preference for white eggs, while others somehow feel that brown eggs are healthier, perhaps by analogy with brown rice. In any case, there is absolutely no nutritional difference between white and brown eggs. Since the shell, whose color determines if the egg is white or brown, isn't eaten, the difference really can only be one of esthetics - which color of eggs looks prettier or more appetizing.

In Brazil, however, eggs don't come in white or brown. They come in branco and vermelho, meaning white and red. Brazilians considered the colored egg to be red not brown. We at Flavors of Brazil, as  native English speakers, tend to see colored eggs as brown, but language influences perception, and so if the same egg were called red maybe we'd see it differently. Whatever color one wants to call them, in Brazilian markets and supermarkets you can find both colors equally available. Eggs are not generally found in refrigerated sections of supermarkets in Brazil - they are displayed and sold at room temperature, to no noticeable detrimental effect.

When speaking of eggs in Brazil, the correct word to use is ovo, which means egg. You do have to be careful about making sure the context is culinary when speaking of them in Portuguese, however, particularly in the plural. The word ovos does mean eggs, but it also means balls, in the testicular sense (as does the Spanish equivalent huevos). Ovos in that sense is considered a vulgar word, but not super-vulgar. It's approximately equivalent, in terms of vulgarity, to balls in English.

There is a considerable vocabulary of cooking terms for eggs in Portuguese, just as there is in English. Most eggs in Brazil are eaten either fried sunny-side-up or hard boiled, but other cooking techniques are known and used. Here's a list of English cooking terms for eggs, and their Brazilian Portuguese equivalents:

fried (frito)
hard boiled (cozido)
soft boiled (cozido mole)
scrambled (mexido)
omelette (omelete)
poached (escalfado)
deviled (recheado)

From admittedly limited research, we've not been able to find out how to translate the English expressions "over easy" and "over hard." If someone with a good knowledge of American culture and the Portuguese language can help Flavors of Brazil out with these phrases, it would be much appreciated.


  1. Where are eggs sold refrigerated? In the US? Here in the UK, eggs are sold unrefrigerated like Brazil. The same goes for other countries in Europe that I've visited.

  2. I'm not sure about the US, but they are only sold refrigerated in Canada, my home country. If I recall, it's the same story in the USA, but I can be sure.

  3. How interesting. To be honest, I always used to store them in the fridge as soon as I brought them home but I never thought it was odd that they were sold unrefrigerated. Now I don't even bother with the fridge and they still last long enough...

  4. Eggs are indeed refrigerated here in Canada and in the US to reduce the risk of salmonella poisoning. It would be interesting to know if Brazil (and Europe) has a higher incidence than in North America? Speaking of eggs, I always find it funny how popular quail eggs are in Brazil - they are definitely not that popular here in Canada.

  5. During our recent trip to the US, my husfriend was disgusted by the way Americans eat over easy eggs. He asked me how to make sure his egg didn't come like that at the restaurant, so I taught him "over hard."

    He said that in Portuguese, you can say "ovo frito com gema mole" for over easy eggs, though it's just kind of explaining the American tradition, and for over hard eggs, you can say "ovo frito com gema dura" or, he says "bem fritinho" (though I think he might have made that last one up).

    I asked him, "but if I went up to a Brazilian grandma who didn't know anything about the US and said, 'quero ovo frito com gema mole,' would she know what to make?" and he said yes. So there ya go.

  6. I've never heard of salmonella outbreaks here in the UK and most eggs in supermarkets have this safety marking:

    They recommend keeping eggs below 20 degrees so definitely not refrigerated.

    Yeah, quail eggs are nice for salads and things like that. They taste pretty much that same as regular eggs, only bite size.

  7. Thanks, everyone, for the comment, and thanks for the help Danielle in translating English egg vocabulary.

  8. There is no major difference between the brown egg and white egg though.

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