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What Is an Egg Cream?

This iconic New York beverage contains no eggs . . . and no cream.
By Published June 14, 2022

Have you ever had an egg cream? A mix of sweet chocolate syrup, creamy milk, and bubbly seltzer, this rich yet refreshing drink is steeped in history and mystery.

An iconic New York City beverage, egg creams reached peak popularity in the early 1900s, particularly in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side of Manhattan where soda fountains and candy shops dotted the streets serving sodas, sundaes, and of course, egg creams. Chocolate egg creams are classic, but you’ll also find a vanilla version made with vanilla syrup and a "black and white" made with both chocolate and vanilla syrups.

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The origin of the name "egg cream" is far murkier than its timeline. Some say it was inspired by the foam at the top of the drink, which resembles whipped egg whites. Others claim that a man who had recently returned from France, where he enjoyed a drink called “chocolat et crème,” ordered one at a New York soda fountain. He explained the recipe to the soda jerk working behind the counter who misheard the name of the drink as “chocolate egg cream.”

Another possibility? Around the turn of the 20th century, many soda fountain drinks featured eggs or egg whites. It’s possible that the original egg cream did contain eggs, but they were removed during the Great Depression to make the drink more affordable. 

And, as egg creams were popular among the large Jewish American populations in Brooklyn and Manhattan, some believe that “egg cream” is an Americanization of “echt keem,” Yiddish for “pure sweetness.” The true story is lost to time, but thankfully this historic beverage isn't.

Most New Yorkers insist that a proper egg cream must be made with Fox’s U-Bet Chocolate Syrup, which has been manufactured in Brooklyn for over 100 years. The right way to make one, though, is still up for debate. 

Carmine Morales grew up on Hester Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and now owns Classic Coffee Shop on the same block. As a child, Carmine frequented a small kiosk run by a man named Ruby that was across from his elementary school and sold candy, pretzels, sodas, and egg creams. Carmine makes egg creams at his shop the same way Ruby taught him: syrup, two “fingers” of milk (the height of two fingers wrapped around the bottom of the glass) and a bit of seltzer in a glass. After a quick stir, he turns the spoon upside down and pours the rest of the seltzer, slowly, down the spoon. He says this creates just the right amount of foam. 

At Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain, head soda jerk and co-owner Peter Freeman does it another way: First, he adds the milk before filling the glass to the top with seltzer. Then he drizzles in the syrup and stirs, using a back-and-forth motion to combine the ingredients without knocking out too many bubbles. He adds another splash of seltzer before serving his egg cream with a pretzel rod (a Brooklyn tradition). 

Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery in Manhattan has been serving egg creams for nearly 100 years. Sixth-generation owner Ellen Anistratov likes to mix the syrup and milk before adding the seltzer. “And,” she says, “there’s a special touch—I always say that you need to have love when you’re making food for people.”

However you make your egg cream, here’s one rule: Drink it quickly. An egg cream is at its fizzy best immediately after it’s made. It’s not considered rude to drink it right down.

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