The Yiddish Roots Of The Egg Cream

What's the deal with egg creams? It has no eggs and no cream. Somewhat head-scratching name aside, egg creams have become a New York delicacy. The drink consists of seltzer water mixed with milk and chocolate syrup to form a deliciously frothy beverage. Egg creams recall another era of Brooklyn, in which soda counters offered a variety of treats. And egg creams are still a favorite of many Brooklyn natives, especially for the Jewish community within the city. But did you know that the origins of the name of egg creams may have Yiddish roots?

The actual origins of the egg cream are foggy at best. No one knows exactly who invented the drink or where. However, egg creams are known to have originated in the 19th or early 20th century somewhere in New York City. One of the most popular theories of the drink's invention names Louis Auster, a candy shop owner in the late 19th century, as the inventor of the egg cream in the 1880s. And over 100 years on, the egg cream remains a classic Brooklyn treat.

There are two dueling explanations for the peculiar name. One suggests it comes from the Yiddish term "echt keem,", which means "pure sweetness." Another proposes that the name comes from a misunderstanding: When theater icon Boris Thomashevsky asked a soda jerk for a French "chocolate et creme" he was given instead what would become known as an egg cream. Whichever theory you believe, the egg cream is an icon in its own right.

A Jewish-American staple

Regardless of the exact origins of the egg cream, it has solidified itself as a New York City staple and is particularly emblematic of the Jewish populations within Brooklyn and other boroughs. The drink became synonymous with Brooklyn around the 1920s, with the recipe for the drink calling specifically for Fox's U-Bet syrup, which is itself a Brooklyn classic.

Fox's U-Bet syrup was invented by a Jewish Brooklyn man named Herman Fox while he was living in a tenement home at the turn of the 20th century. The syrup has since become a local staple and is the only syrup that an egg cream purist would use in their drink.

But it's not just U-Bet's syrup that makes a classic egg cream. Another essential ingredient is the seltzer, which has its own very Jewish roots in New York City history. Jewish Americans were the prime customers of the city's seltzer market. According to writer Sara Gardner, the drink proved to be a delicious digestive aid to many New York Jewish Americans who also happened to love some pretty heavy Eastern European foods. The frothy combination of milk with seltzer and chocolate syrup makes a light and delicious treat that rivals the richer deliciousness of soda fountain items such as milkshakes.

The drink, though still popular, is particularly iconic of the working-class Jewish immigrant culture of turn-of-the-century Brooklyn. And the drink endures as a reminder of the history of both the city and its people.

What makes an egg cream an egg cream

Beyond its mysterious name and origin, however, the egg cream has a beguiling reputation surrounding its, well, odd recipe. The drink is neither soda nor ice cream, and yet it borrows heavily from both worlds. But the egg cream exists in a category all its own. The mixture of syrup and seltzer creates a frothy, bubbling top and has an incredibly light, not-too-sweet taste.

The drink is the perfect indulgence for anyone wanting a sweet, frothy treat that isn't too heavy. And though the drink is a Brooklyn specialty, you can venture to make your own egg cream, no soda jerk needed. You'll simply need some seltzer water, milk, and a syrup of your choosing. If you're not a huge fan of chocolate, you can always try making a perfectly delicious vanilla egg cream. And if that's not your style, other flavored syrups can also be used. Don't be afraid to get creative with your egg cream. Though New York locals might have a word to essay on its authenticity, don't let that ruin your fun.