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What Beverage Has the Most Misleading Name?

Margaret Lipman
By
Published Jun 30, 2024
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If you’ve never had an egg cream, it would be understandable to imagine that the beverage is similar to eggnog, which is traditionally made with eggs and heavy cream (plus sugar, milk, vanilla, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and brandy). Strangely enough, however, an egg cream has almost nothing in common with eggnog. In fact, it contains neither eggs nor cream, and the story of how the drink acquired its confusing name remains a mystery.

So what is an “egg cream,” exactly? According to traditional recipes, the iconic 20th-century soda fountain beverage contains whole milk, cold seltzer, and chocolate syrup (specifically Fox’s U-Bet). Other definitions, including the one used by Merriam-Webster, are significantly broader: “a sweetened drink made with milk or cream and other ingredients; especially, a drink consisting of milk, a flavoring syrup, and soda water.” Although this definition (which would surely shock purists) does mention that it might include cream, there is still no mention of eggs.

Most food historians agree that the egg cream was developed by Eastern-European Jewish immigrants in New York City (either in Brooklyn or Manhattan's Lower East Side) around the turn of the 20th century. Louis Auster is widely credited with creating the drink in its best-known form. At his Lower East Side candy shops, Auster reportedly sold 3,000 egg creams daily (and sometimes many more in hot weather).

The egg cream’s puzzling name has been linked to numerous theories. One of the most popular is that “egg” is a corruption of the Yiddish word echt’, meaning "authentic or genuine." Or the word "egg" might have originally come from Louis Auster shouting for more “Grade A” milk or cream, with the pronunciation of “A” eventually morphing into “egg.” Another theory says that the name was a mispronunciation or mishearing of the French beverage chocolat et crème.

Further complicating matters, it appears that the term “egg cream” was also in use in the mid-to-late 19th century (in such wide-ranging locations as Minnesota, New York City, Idaho, Los Angeles, and England, according to Merriam-Webster) to describe a diverse category of drinks that did include eggs and cream. By the end of that century, drinks made with eggs and/or chocolate syrup (and many other ingredients) were appearing regularly at soda fountains. Eggs were even added to lemonade, coffee, and pineapple-based drinks, not to mention chocolate ones.

So it’s possible that the version of the egg cream that became synonymous with New York City was based on an earlier, fancier beverage that did contain eggs, cream, chocolate syrup, and soda water – until Louis Auster and others created a far more affordable drink that replaced the first two ingredients with milk.

The delicious, disappearing egg cream:

  • New York City’s classic egg creams are made with Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup, renowned for its ability to dissolve in milk.

  • Egg creams (and traditional marble-counter soda fountains) are rare in the Big Apple these days, but a few establishments, such as Brooklyn Farmacy, are committed to preserving this uniquely New York City drink. Sadly, two iconic NYC establishments known for their egg creams – Gem Spa newspaper stand in the East Village and Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop in the Flatiron district – both closed in 2020.

  • Much of the appeal of the egg cream comes from its frothy head, created by quickly mixing the ingredients with a metal spoon. Despite efforts to sell them in bottles or cans, egg creams really only achieve this consistency when made fresh, hence their appeal as a soda fountain drink.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.
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Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
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