“Water glassing” preserves summer abundant eggs so you can enjoy them in the winter.
Most domestic poultry naturally lay eggs most during the summertime, and stop or dramatically decrease laying in the colder, darker season of late fall and winter. In the current day, many farmers and commercial egg producers will provide hens with bright lights and heaters during the winter to keep up laying productivity. However, long before the days of access to electricity and dependable refrigeration, people sought out ways to preserve eggs from the peak laying season so that they could have fresh eggs throughout the winter months. The process of water glassing eggs developed in response to this need.
What Is Water Glassing?
Water glassing involves submerging eggs in a solution of sodium silicate or calcium hydroxide, creating an alkaline environment that deters any bacterial or microbial growth. The solution seals the otherwise porous shell to prevent air from getting inside the egg, which is actually what causes an egg to spoil. If done correctly, this method can preserve eggs for up to two years!
The term “water glassing” comes from the appearance of sodium silicate when it is combined with water. As the water evaporates, the solution then turns to a solid, glass-like substance. Sodium silicate was likely the original ingredient in early water glassing recipes, and over time calcium hydroxide has become more popular in modern day recipes and is arguably easier to source. Calcium hydroxide goes by many names, including hydrated lime, slated lime, and pickling lime. It is made from burning limestone, shells, and bones, which are then rehydrated with water.
Both sodium silicate and calcium hydroxide are readily available from chemical outlets and hardware stores. However, I would urge you to only use a product that is explicitly labeled as safe for food use. I, in fact, had a hard time locally sourcing a food-safe option for sodium silicate. Calcium hydroxide, however, was very easy to find as “pickling lime” at my local grocery store, so that will be the process I outline here. Check the canning supplies section at your local hardware or grocery store. Pickling lime usually comes in a small, one-pound bag, and it’s also great for making crunchy cucumber pickles!
The Experiments Begin
I started my research about water glassing because I was interested in preserving the glut of eggs that my quail produce each summer. I always have a hard time using them fast enough, and then I miss them during the wintertime. Even though we provide heat lamps for our quail during the cold months, production is much lower (and we’re okay with giving the hens the winter off).
Any recipes and information I could find about water glassing methods were written for chicken eggs, and I found very little insight about using this preservation technique with quail eggs. At most, quail eggs would get an honorable mention at the end of a recipe with a comment like, “this should also work for duck eggs and quail eggs.” So I thought I would try it for myself!
Essential Lessons Learned
There are a few essential conditions for successful water glassing that apply to any type of egg. First, the eggs must be impeccably clean and free from dust, debris, and dirt. This is important because eggs used for water glassing cannot be washed or wiped off. The natural bloom that occurs on eggs during laying must stay intact for the process to be effective. Washing eggs, or even wiping them off with a damp cloth, removes the bloom. This also means that store-bought eggs are not viable for water glassing as they are washed.
Second, the eggs must be very fresh, at most a week or so old. This ensures that the egg has not had much opportunity for air to permeate the porous shell, and therefore has not lost a considerable amount of its inner moisture or had time to be exposed to bacteria through that exchange. This fresh factor is another reason to avoid using store-bought eggs for water glassing, as they are likely much older than a week by the time they reach store shelves. You can collect your own eggs over the course of a week to get enough for a batch, as I ended up doing.
The third (and last) condition is that the container you use needs to be very clean. I would recommend either boiling to sterilize (if you use a canning jar) or using a liquid sanitizer like Star San for crocks and buckets. I opted for a quart glass canning jar and sterilized it by boiling it in water for 10 minutes.
I discovered that collecting spotless eggs was more of a challenge than I had anticipated. It turned out to be a little tricky finding quail eggs that didn’t need a bit of washing, especially since quail lay eggs all over the coop and not in a designated area. Eggs were collected a couple of times a day, and I put a fresh layer of pine bedding down daily to help keep the new eggs clean until I could get to them. I gave myself a week-long window to collect eggs and managed to get enough for a small test batch.
Before starting the water glassing process, decide if you need to load the eggs into the container in its final destination. Once the container is full of eggs and water, will it be too heavy to move easily? Keep in mind that one cracked egg can spoil the whole batch, and a small jostle could easily crack one in a large container. A quart jar or small crock is easily moved- a large pickling crock or bucket should be assembled in place. Do consider that the weight of several layers of quail eggs could potentially crush the ones on the bottom, given that their shells are more delicate than chicken eggs. I would highly recommend water glassing quail eggs in small batches, creating no more than 2 or 3 layers of quail eggs in a container for this reason.
Tools and Materials
To water glass eggs, you will need:
-Pair of rubber or nitrile gloves (for handling the pickling lime- it can be somewhat drying and irritating to the skin)
-Filtered or distilled water (the amount of water used needs to cover the eggs by at least two inches)
-Digital scale and light container to hold pickling lime for weighing
-Sanitized container with lid (canning jar, crock, food-grade bucket)
-Pitcher or other container for mixing pickling lime and water
-A cool, dark, dry storage location that doesn’t experience freezing temperatures, like a basement
To get started, arrange the eggs in your chosen, sanitized container point down. This allows the air pocket to be at the top of the egg in storage.
Place the lightweight container on your digital scale and tare. With gloves on, measure one ounce of pickling lime per quart of water needed. Using this ratio, mix your water and lime in a pitcher until fully combined. The solution will look very opaque and milky now, but the lime will eventually settle over the eggs and the water will become clear.
Gently pour this mixture into your egg container, ensuring that the liquid covers the eggs by at least 2-inches. Cover to keep the water from evaporating, label with the date placed, and store in a location as described above.
In theory, you can periodically add eggs to the water glass solution. However, I would suggest starting a new container, instead, so that the oldest eggs don’t get buried at the bottom and expire before you reach them, which could ruin the whole batch. A new container with its new placement date is best.
Using the Glassed Eggs
To use water glassed eggs, fish out the number that you need from the container, and thoroughly rinse them and pat dry. As effective as the limewater solution is at preserving them, a single drop of it can curdle the egg inside. The shells of water glassed eggs will take on a chalky appearance as they dry. If you intend to boil or steam these eggs, prick a hole through the shell before cooking. The process of water glassing seals the shell so completely that, without a pin hole, the egg will explode when boiled or steamed.
When using water glassed eggs, you should still check that the eggs’ appearance and smell is not off when you open them. My water glass batch set for four months, and the eggs I used seemed just as fresh as the ones I brought in earlier that day! I wanted to compare the taste, texture, and performance of water glassed eggs versus fresh eggs to see if there was a significant difference between them, so I prepared them both hard-boiled and fried.
Hardboiled and Fried
I didn’t notice any difference in taste between the hard-boiled eggs, although in peeling them the membrane of the water glassed one was just a little tougher. The textures were very similar, as well. The water glassed egg had a little bit less of a rubbery chew than the fresh one.
With frying the two types of eggs, I noticed the water glassed egg yolks tended to cling to the membrane inside the shell, and it was not possible to remove the yolk fully intact. The yolk and white, as well, were a little more watery and not quite as distinct from each other. However, the flavor of the water glassed egg was actually tastier and richer than the fresh one! This may have been, in part, because the white and yolk were more integrated.
Overall, the water glassed eggs were every bit as usable as the fresh ones and just as delicious. If you are looking to impress someone with the presentation of your fried quail egg, maybe reach for a fresh one, but I am looking forward to water glassing my summertime bumper crop of quail eggs for this winter!
Kelly Bohling is a native of Lawrence, Kansas. She works as a classical violinist, but in between gigs and lessons she’s out in the garden or spending time with her animals, including quail and French Angora rabbits. She enjoys finding ways that her animals and garden can benefit each other for a more sustainable urban homestead. You can follow her on Instagram and through her website: Kelly Bohling Studios.