Featured article in the Fall 2019 Issue of Nutrition Close-Up.

Too often, nutrition discussions emphasize single nutrients or foods. Focusing on recipes, meals, and dietary patterns are better approaches for ensuring nutrient needs are met. It is also essential to ensure recommendations focus on flavor and enjoyment. This is especially true when making recommendations to motivate people to choose foods from under-consumed categories like vegetables. Dietary intake data show overall vegetable intake is below the recommended intake for more than 80 percent of Americans.1

At the 2019 Produce for Better Health Foundation Consumer Connection conference, a culinary session highlighted five powerful produce pairings that use flavor synergy to create deliciousness in ways that may help increase vegetable consumption. The presenters, culinary nutrition expert Amy Myrdal Miller and Certified Master Chef Ron DeSantis, created pairings that featured the flavor as well as nutrient benefits for pairings like eggs and avocados. Our perception of flavor is impacted by all our senses from sight, smell, and sound to taste and touch. Of our five senses, our sense of smell has the greatest impact on our perception of flavor or deliciousness. About 80 percent of our flavor perception is influenced by what we smell, and what we smell is influenced by several aromatic organic compounds.2

Amy and Chef Ron knew that Hass avocados, at a certain stage of ripeness, contain a volatile organic compound that can mimic the flavor of cooked bacon. Who doesn’t love the classic pairing of bacon and eggs? But Amy and Chef Ron knew they could develop a pairing that had a better nutrition story to tell. Research has shown that consuming eggs with vegetables that contain vitamin E enhances the absorption of both alpha and gamma-tocopherol.3 Avocados contain several carotenoids, including alpha-tocopherol.4, 5

The final recipe, Avocado and Potato Hash with Sunny Side Eggs, also featured cooking techniques that contributed to the final flavor profile. Sautéing the diced avocado in extra virgin olive oil helped release the aromatic compounds in the avocado. When the sunny side eggs were placed on top of the potato-avocado hash, the flavors and textures of the eggs with their silky running yolks, and the seared avocados, perfectly complemented and enhanced each other.

The strategy of pairing eggs with vegetables is not a new one. In Mediterranean countries from Europe and the Middle East to North Africa, home cooks have been poaching eggs in a tomato-based sauce with herbs and aromatics for centuries. The Israelis call it shakshuka while the Greeks call the dish avgozoumo. Cooks in the North African countries of Algeria and Tunisia make a similar dish, but they use more vegetables in the sauce in which the eggs get poached or gently scrambled. Culinary historian Clifford Wright asserts that all forms of shakshuka originated in Turkey from a dish called menemen, which includes small peppers like the shishito and padron peppers found in the U.S.6

The possibilities for pairing eggs with vegetables are endless when we look for inspiration from world cuisines that, for centuries, have found ways to create delicious food through thoughtful ingredient selection and the use of culinary techniques that enhance flavor. Given the health-promoting benefits and consumer appeal of Mediterranean dietary patterns, recommending recipes from that part of the world can be an especially powerful health promotion strategy.

About the authors: Amy Myrdal Miller is president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting in Carmichael, CA. Lauren Simin, a summer intern working with Amy, is completing her undergraduate degree in nutrition science at Baylor University in Waco, TX.

  1. Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020, Chapter 2: Shifts Needed to Align with Healthy Eating Patterns. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-2/current-eating-patterns-in-the-united-states/ (accessed online July 9, 2019).
  2. The Science Behind Great Ingredient Pairings http://blog.foodpairing.com/2016/03/the-secret-behind-great-ingredient-pairings/ (accessed July 9, 2019).
  3. Kim JE, et al. Egg Consumption Increases Vitamin E Absorption from Co-Consumed Raw Mixed Vegetables in Healthy Young Men. J Nutr. 2016 Nov;146(11):2199-2205.
  4. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/ (accessed July 9, 2019).
  5. Lu Q, et al. California Hass Avocado: Profiling of Carotenoids, tocopherol, fatty acid, and fat content during maturation and from different growing areas. J Agric Food Chem. 2009 Nov 11; 57(21): 10408–10413.
  6. Wright CA. Mediterranean Vegetables. Boston. The Harvard Common Press, 2001.