Eggs are found in the dairy aisle, but does that actually mean they’re dairy products?

Wait, are eggs dairy?

Published May 4, 2021 7:30AM (EDT)

 (Ty Mecham / Food52)
(Ty Mecham / Food52)

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Whether eggs are dairy almost seems like a nonissue at first thought. Eggs and dairy products have such few similarities and perform such different functions in recipes that it sounds nonsensical to conflate the two. Dairy is what gives ingredients like milk, ice cream, cheese, and yogurt a delicate, creamy sweetness that coats your mouth. Eggs are the protein-filled wunderkind of the kitchen that supplements our breakfast plates, binds together our baked goods, thickens custards, and whips up into cloudlike meringues, along with a bevy other culinary applications. Eggs are eggs; dairy is dairy. Simple as that, right?

But as any anxious person will tell you, nothing is ever that simple. Maybe you start to notice how close eggs and dairy are kept in the supermarket — it is only called the "dairy" aisle after all. So wait . . . are eggs dairy?

If you ever found yourself in a similar existential crisis in the middle of the refrigerated section, allow me to answer your questions, and put at least some of your dairy-driven anxieties to rest. (If you haven't ever found yourself spiraling in the supermarket, that sounds very nice, but I simply cannot relate.) Before we can determine whether eggs are dairy, let's break down both categories.

What is an egg?

The eggs we eat are laid by birds, from chickens to ducks to ostriches. Inside their delicate shells is a clear, liquidy, protein-rich outer egg white, also called albumen, surrounding a delicate yellow yolk, loaded with vitamins and healthy fats called lipids. Eggs are a complete protein, meaning that they carry all the essential amino acids our bodies require. But their proteins are also an allergy trigger: 2% of children live with egg allergies (typically due to the proteins in egg whites, though some are also allergic to the yolk as well.)

What is a dairy product?

Heathline notes that dairy products are derived from the milk of mammals, namely cows, but also goats, sheep, and buffalo, among others. Most dairy products, like milk, ice cream, and yogurt, include the presence of lactose, a naturally occurring sugar in human and cow's milk that is often the root cause of dairy intolerance. (An estimated 75% of people worldwide lose their ability to digest milk in some capacity as they age, when their body stops producing lactase, a lactose-eating enzyme. Cheese and butter, though lower in lactose, are also considered dairy products.

OK . . . Are eggs dairy?!

Besides being two of the most prevalent food allergies, eggs and dairy have little in common beyond their anaphylactic properties. Whereas eggs are the unfertilized offspring of birds, dairy comes from the milk meant to feed the offspring of mammals.

Both eggs and dairy are considered animal products, and both are known sources of protein. While it makes sense for markets to group refrigerated goods together, proximity does not equate to similarity. MyPlate, the modern USDA food pyramid, includes eggs with other sources of proteins like meat, poultry, and legumes — independent from dairy's space on the chart, despite its protein-bearing properties.

Keeping all this in mind, it's safe to say that, although they are connected, eggs are not dairy products. With a clear differentiation between the two ingredients, anyone with a dairy allergy should generally be safe eating eggs, as should anyone with an egg allergy consuming dairy.

Are eggsa and dairy vegetarian? Are they vegan?

This recent article lays out the nuances of various plant-based diets, but ultimately this is how it breaks down: While vegetarians typically refrain from eating anything that costs an animal's life to produce, many continue to eat dairy and eggs, as they don't inherently cause harm to the animal that produced the ingredient. Vegans, however, avoid consuming any and all animal products, including eggs and dairy products.

Understandably, this can get confusing for people with dietary restrictions. Here's what you need to know: If a product is vegetarian, it may contain eggs and dairy; if a product is vegan, it will contain neither eggs nor dairy. If a product is marked "dairy-free," it still may contain eggs; if a product is labeled "egg-free," it might contain dairy.

And what about products marked as "pareve"?

Some people of the Jewish faith follow the kashruth, which are the dietary laws of Judaism that denote what foods and cooking preparations are considered kosher, and dairy is a big factor. Kosher foods are often designated with an "F" for fleishig, or a meat product; "M" for milchig, or a milk product (aka a dairy product); or "P" for pareve, meaning it contains neither meat nor dairy. Foods designated pareve are considered "neutral," and can be eaten with either meat or dairy, so pareve foods are therefore dairy-free. Eggs are considered pareve, while of course the rest of the dairy aisle, including yogurt, butter, and cheese, are milk-based products; so while something pareve is safe for those with dairy sensitivities, it may not be fit for egg-avoiders. If that doesn't answer whether eggs are dairy well enough, nothing will.

By Kurt Suchman

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