Fluffy, sweet meringue is one of the things that makes pie such a beloved treat. The airy texture and delicate taste satisfies your sweet tooth. Meringue isn't exactly thought of as a healthy snack, but chances are good, you're going to want some eventually anyway. The nutrition facts on meringue aren't all bad.
Meringue's main ingredients are commonly in your kitchen: eggs and sugar. The other thing you'll need is cream of tartar -- if it's not in your pantry now, you can find it at any grocery store in the spices section.
Making meringue is simple. For the average-sized pie, use four eggs. Separate the eggs and retain the whites -- that's the only part you'll use for meringue. Beat the whites with a rotary mixer on high until they start to foam. Add 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar and continue beating. Once little peaks start forming, beat in 1/4 cup of sugar per egg, a little at a time. Continue beating until the meringue is of the firmness you prefer. Baking it at 325 degrees F on top of pie filling finishes your meringue.
Nutrients in Egg
Eggs are power-packed with nutrition. In meringue, you're only getting the whites, of course, but one egg white gives you 4g of protein, as well as nearly 10 percent of your daily need for selenium. The eggs provide virtually all of the nutrition that meringue offers.
It's almost impossible to think of anything positive in terms of nutrition when it comes to sugar. The American Heart Association emphasizes that most people are unaware of how much sugar they consume, and the resulting health impact is negative. If you're trying to keep close track of your sugar consumption, the AHA says to aim for no more than about 6 tsp. -- for women -- to 9 tsp. -- for men -- per day. Considering that one whole pie's meringue has about 1 cup of sugar in it, which is equivalent to 48 tsp., even if you cut the pie in eight standard-sized pieces, you've still whittled each piece's meringue sugar content to about 6 tsp. -- and you haven't counted the filling's sugar.
Cream of Tartar
The addition of cream of tartar, or potassium hydrogen tartrate, to meringue is merely to help firm up the foam. It provides no flavor or color. This 1 tsp. of cream of tartar has 7 calories, 1mg of sodium, and a whopping 495mg -- 14 percent of your daily needs -- of potassium.
More Nutritious Meringue
It's possible to make a meringue that's still tasty and more nutritious. Certified Nutrition Educator, Mira Dessy of Grains&More, says that even though egg whites provide necessary nutrients, the amount of sugar tips the balance and detracts from that single nutrition benefit of meringue. She adds that "Many people don't like using meringue in its uncooked form because of the raw egg element." Her recommendation for those worried about salmonella -- a foodborne bacteria sometimes found in raw eggs -- is to use meringue powder, a premade powder of dried egg whites with stabilizing agents.
Diets that are over-abundant in sugar are a primary culprit in the incidence of diabetes. Everyone can benefit, though, from learning to use different types of sugars in recipes. Dessy states that less-processed sugars, like evaporated cane juice crystals, can provide sweetness without the quite as much nutritional harm as processed white sugar. You can also cut the nutrition-detracting element of sugar by whipping substitutes into your meringue. The University of Illinois Extension's Recipes for Diabetes Lemon Meringue Pie uses Splenda, for example. CooksRecipes.com's ingredients for Lemon Meringue Pie include Equal.
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- American Heart Association: Sugars and Carbohydrates
- Food.com: Kitchen Dictionary: cream of tartar
- Mira Dessy; Certified Nutrition Educator, Grains&More; The Woodlands, Texas
- University of Illinois Extension Recipes for Diabetes: Lemon Meringue Pie
- CooksRecipes.com: Lemon Meringue Pie
Since 1997, Tracy Morris has written about fertility and medical topics for magazines such as "Achieving Families," "ePregnancy," "Nurses Lounge" and internet communities like MomsOnline. She has written for the clinics IntegraMed America, Shady Grove Fertility and RSC Bay Area. Morris has a Bachelor of Arts in human development/family studies from University of Houston and is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.