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Do you know why you can’t boil an egg on Mount Everest?

Imagine you climbed the Mount Everest! You have achieved something unbelievable and wonderful, you are unspeakably proud of yourself and you are absolutely excited and happy. But you will not be able to have one thing: a freshly hard boiled egg!

 Mount_EverestMount Everest

 

After you have done the unthinkable you believe anything is possible, just not boiling an egg. Why?

Well, the problem is with the height, the air pressure, and the water temperature.

 

Air pressure and temperature – a never-ending relationship

 

As higher you get as lower the air pressure becomes. And air pressure is always connected with temperature. So, if the air pressure goes down the temperature goes down, logically if the air pressure goes up the temperature goes up as well. They are always in a relationship and connection.

So due to the low air pressure on a high mountain, the water boils, with bubbles and steam, already at a low temperature.  We have to remember that once the water boils it will not get hotter. So if the water boils at a specific water temperature it will stay at this temperature, no matter what.

 

 It’s about height, air pressure and water temperature!

At sea level water boils at 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit). And with every 300 m we go up the temperature at which the water boils goes down by 1 degree Celsius.

 

Boiling eggs

 

So what’s the story with boiling eggs? Eggs have something interesting, the yolk and the egg white don’t harden at the same water temperature. The yolk needs around 65 C (149 F) to get hard and the egg white needs around 85 C (185 F) to get completely hard. So if we are at the Mount Everest, which we climbed up at the beginning, we are at 8 848 m (20 236 feet).  There the water boils already at around 70 C (158 F). So the yolk might get hard but the white outside will stay glibber and we can’t enjoy our egg.

boiled eggs credit besthomechef.com.au
These eggs were not boiled at Mount Everest
 
 

What about other famous mountains? Mont Blanc at 4 810 m (15 782 feet), Mount Kilimanjaro at 5 895 m (19 341 feet) and  Mount McKinley at 6 194 m (20 237 feet)?

Well, at Mont Blanc water boils at 84 C (183 F).  We can boil our egg there with no problem. At Mount Kilimanjaro the water boils at 80 C (176 F) and at Mount McKinley the water boils at 79 C (174 F). There we might have a problem with boiling the egg white. But maybe, if we boil the egg long enough, we will be successful there as well. But once we are above 7 000 m (22 966 feet) no eggs can be boiled anymore.

And do you know what a pressure cooker has to do with all I mentioned above? Well, in a pressure cooker you get the pressure really high which allows the temperature to be above 100 Celsius (212 Fahrenheit). This speeds up cooking.

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simplyilka

Hi I'm Ilka, a self-development writer and lovable scientist with a knowledgeable expertise in brain science. I help people realize the power our behavior has on our brain - and the other way around.

Jens-Petter Berget - May 23, 2014

Hi Ilka,

This is interesting. I have never given this much thought, probably because I don’t think that I’ll ever climb Mount Everest 🙂

Btw, I do eat eggs – but I’m a vegetarian.
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    simplyilka - May 23, 2014

    Thanks Jens!

    I guess not many of us will ever climb Mount Everest. But there can be a problem with boiling water, for e.g. potatoes, on some lower mountains as well.

    I know a lot of vegetarians and most of them eat eggs, some even fish.Bbut I don’t know if they can be called vegetarians if they eat fish.

    Enjoy your weekend 🙂

      hardik - December 13, 2016

      Hi Ilka,
      This is the actually the problem world is facing now, we are discovering a three types of people in the world, they are vegetarian, a non-vegetarian and the one who eat eggs and fish and are still vegetarian…!! 😀 😀 i don’t know whats wrong with the world…! 😀
      By the way nice name, Have a nice day! 🙂

      simplyilka - December 13, 2016

      Thanks for your lovely comment! I think it is important to know the motivation behind being a vegetarian. It can be a health issue or a world view. With eggs, it might come to the point if the egg is fertilized or not.

      Have great day, Ilka

    Harleena Singh - May 24, 2014

    Jens, I like that!! You eat eggs and you are a vegetarian!! Lol…how does that happen as I too am one, but no eggs this end 🙂
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    Karsten - January 9, 2017

    Luckily for me I eat meat and my favourite cooking temperature for beef is 54C. That’s a pretty bloody steak, and can apparently be enjoyed anywhere in the world!

      simplyilka - January 11, 2017

      Hi Karsten!

      Welcome to my blog! And thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

      With 54C you are definitely on the safe side while up on the mountain 😉

      Have a great day. – Ilka

Nini Riedel - May 23, 2014

Dear Ilka!
What an interesting story. I would have never thought about it (even if I would be fit enough to conquer Mt. Everest) but it is amazing that there are places on our planet where we are not able to actually manage to boil an egg.
Can’t wait for your next fact!!
NINI

    simplyilka - May 24, 2014

    Thanks a lot Nini!

    I am glad you liked the post and you have learned something new. I am always happy if people do 🙂

    I am also not fit enough to actually conquer Mount Everest; but I like to imagine it 🙂

Marylin Warner - May 24, 2014

Excellent post, Ilka!
When my husband was a teen and climbing many of Colorado’s 14,000+ ‘ high mountains, he and some friends brought smoked ham and pinto beans for a filling dinner at their campsite. They left their mean simmering in water on their camp stove while they spent an hour hiking to the next water site to fill up their water holders. They were stunned that the beans were still hard. There are many things you can’s cook at certain altitudes!

    simplyilka - May 24, 2014

    Thanks so much for sharing Marylin!

    What a fantastic story. Your husband and his friends ‘lived’ what I was writing about. I guess there are really many different foods you can’t cook on a high mountain. Whenever the water boils below the temperature the food needs. So, beans are added to the list of ‘can’t cook on heights’ 😉

Harleena Singh - May 24, 2014

Hi Ilka,

That was explained SO well I must say, and very interesting too 🙂

Although like Jens, I would never climb that high and if I did, I wouldn’t be in a state to eat anything, leave alone an egg! But this surely is something I never knew. I guess that’s why they eat more of oily and fried things when they are that high up.

I know as my Dad was posted near to that height years back, and we were given deep fried things besides the canned ones, and of course, fried eggs. Fun days indeed.

Thanks for sharing. Have a nice weekend 🙂
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    simplyilka - May 24, 2014

    Thanks Harleena!

    I am glad you found the post interesting. And it’s perfectly ok that you are not climbing Mount Everest. This way we won’t miss your fantastic posts 😉

    Interesting that you experienced living in a high location. Isn’t it great to see how people adapt to circumstances? Just look at the food that was offered to you. It shows that some traditions are simply developing out of living conditions.

    Thanks for sharing and have a fantastic weekend as well 🙂

Ella - May 24, 2014

Yay! I’ve learned something new again 🙂

I knew that certain foods could not be cooked in places with high altitudes. But I never understood why. Now I do! Thanks Ilka

    simplyilka - May 24, 2014

    Thanks Ella!

    I am truly happy I could clarify!

    Thanks so much for visiting my blog again and for sharing your thoughts 🙂

afsheenanjum - May 24, 2014

Very interesting I never thought of this, enjoyed every bit of this 🙂 and the eggs seems so yummy and really well presented.
Keep up the good work, May Allah bless you and your loved ones ameen.
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    simplyilka - May 24, 2014

    Thanks Afsheen!

    I am glad you enjoyed the post. Luckily we live in an area where we can present yummy eggs with no trouble 🙂

    All the best to you 🙂

Adrienne - May 28, 2014

Hi Ilka,

Oh wow, I learned something new today. I would have had no idea because of course I’m no dare devil. I’m to knowledgeable about climbing mountains or the types of foods you can even fix once there.

I have seen some documentaries of people who have climbed to the tops of some mountains and of course some didn’t make it because of the conditions. I guess that’s an adrenaline thing, I wouldn’t know. I’ve never had a desired myself but I do find it interesting.

Thanks for the educational lesson today.

~Adrienne
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    simplyilka - May 28, 2014

    Hi Adrienne!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. I am glad you liked the post and you learned something new 🙂

    It’s fascinating that people train for months and years and then they don’t make it up a mountain because of the harsh conditions up there.

    I think it’s also easier for me to write about climbing a mountain than to actually do it 😉 But imagination is important for our job as well, ins’t it?

    All the best, Ilka

Sherri - May 29, 2014

This is simply fascinating Ilka! I honestly never knew this! I don’t do mountain climbing so I won’t have to worry but I would have certainly wondered why my egg wouldn’t have boiled! I love your posts, your humour, very interesting facts and scientific explanations made so easy!
Have a great day my dear friend 🙂
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    simplyilka - May 29, 2014

    Thank you so much for your kind words. I am honored that you love my posts 🙂

    And should you ever meet someone who is about to climb a mountain you can let him or her know 😉

    Have a great day as well Sherri!

macpurrson - June 12, 2014

Extremely interesting!

I don’t know how I ended up here, but I loved reading this. Well explained too 🙂
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    simplyilka - June 12, 2014

    However you ended up here, welcome!!!

    I am glad you found the post interesting. I am always thrilled when people learn something new, are interested in something I am fascinated about or are inspired.

    I am happy to be in touch and will hop over to your blog now 🙂

    – Ilka

Do you live with Celsius or Fahrenheit? simplyilka - February 5, 2015

[…] reversed later by other scientists. Since temperature is always depending on pressure (see my post ‘Do you know why you can’t boil an egg on Mount Everest?’ the 0 °C is set at sea level […]

Pritam Nagrale - May 18, 2015

Interesting story !!!
I knew the basic idea about the temperature on mount everest,
And it is very difficult there to cook anything or boil anything.

But I didn’t knew egg can’t boil at al on mount everest.
Thanks for this interesting post
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    simplyilka - July 12, 2015

    Hi Pritam!

    Thank you for visiting my website and thank you for your great comment. I am sorry from my side for answering soooo late.
    I had some trouble here at the website. I am always happy if people learn something new and find an answer reading my post.

    Have a great day, Ilka

Carl D'Agostino - October 23, 2015

They probably don’t have B-B-Q, up there either.

    simplyilka - October 23, 2015

    Considering the weather 😉

Claudiu - February 1, 2016

Hello,

You first said that for each 300m, water loses 3 degrees in its boiling point; but this would mean that on Everest, the boiling point of water should be ~ 12 degrees Celsius.

Did you mean to say that water loses 1 degree Celsius in its boiling point per 300m?

    simplyilka - March 3, 2016

    Hi Claudiu,

    Thank you for reading my post and my apologies for the late response. I was doing some changes at my blog. You are absolutely right. It was a typo from my side. It must read 1 degree Celsius. I’ve already changed it.
    Thank you for letting me know 🙂
    Best and I hope to see and read you again at my blog, Ilka

fredrick kambanda - March 14, 2016

thanks alot,

Am so delighted to get more versed with this concept especially with your great works. But what if some body carries a pressure cooker to the top of mount everest, cant he/she get to boil the egg and have all the inner parts hard and ready.
Thanks

    simplyilka - March 19, 2016

    Hi Frederick,

    That’s a great idea. It is actually possible to use a pressure cooker to compensate for the low atmospheric pressure at a very high elevation 🙂

    Thanks for your comment and your clever thought, Ilka

Rachel - May 9, 2016

Hey Ilka,

As I was reading your post, I had a picture in my mind of me climbing Everest, slipping and falling on the ice, crushing my eggs, so I wouldn’t get a chance to boil them at the top anyway.

I’d never thought about high altitudes and cooking, but the facts you present make sense.

Rachel.

    simplyilka - May 30, 2016

    Hi Rachel!

    Thanks for your comment. I can truly image you tumbling up the mountain cracking all the eggs 😉

    Thanks for making me laugh. Have a great day, Ilka

Ian - June 11, 2016

The answer is slightly wrong, as a fan of sous vide, while it’s true that eggs only completely cook at 75C, you can still hard ‘boil’ eggs at 65 C except for a small amount of white (the exterior albumen) that is easily separated- the white and all the yoke cooks 60-65C, and indeed they are delicious, but they take a while to cook.

Eggs aren’t really the issue.

Potatoes and starchy vegetables on the other hand, they need a solid 85+C to even start to cook, and need pressure cooking.

    simplyilka - December 14, 2016

    Hi Ian!

    Thanks for your lovely comment. Of course, you can eat an egg that is not totally boiled if you like. So, should I have said hard boiled egg? The point I really wanted to make here was the scientific relationship of pressure and temperature as well as the fact of low pressure at mountains. That works for cooking potatoes as well, but I found the idea and example of boiling eggs more than cooking potatoes more appealing.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. Hope you find other topics here interesting as well.

    Best, Ilka

      77th Trombone - August 22, 2017

      The info provided by Ilka & Ian is just about exactly what I was looking for.

      I was just reading some other Q&A involving P vs T of water boiling. The answer included the statement “If you could get up high enough up on a mountain,… potatoes will not boil in an open vessel.”

      The answering author was correct up to that last phrase. Potatoes will never boil!!

      Lesson: if you’re planning dinner above 4500m (14,750 ft,) either drop the boiled potatoes from your menu or remember your pressure cooker.

      simplyilka - October 14, 2017

      Thank you very much for your comment. All the best, Ilka

Aliraza - July 8, 2016

Am agree that water boil at 72Celsius at mountain Everest but you can boil egg there by providing more heat . . . .

    simplyilka - December 14, 2016

    Hi Aliraza!

    Thanks for your comment. Because pressure and heat are connected in physics, by increasing heat you can increase the water temperature in a closed environment. But at the top of a mountain with its natural environment, you can’t increase the temperature, right?

    Best wishes to you, Ilka

Aneel Kumar - September 10, 2016

As you know we use pressure cooker to cook food rapidly by increasing pressure…..so,Can we increase temperature instead of increasing pressure for cooking something quickly?

    simplyilka - December 14, 2016

    Dear Aneel!

    Thank you very much for your question. As you can see in my last paragraph, pressure cookers are very useful and speed up cooking. The laws of physics show a relationship between pressure and temperature. If you increase heat in a closed environment like a pressure cooker you will automatically increase pressure as well. That’s how a pressure cooker works indeed. However, this does not work in an open environment like the top of a mountain.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. Hope you find other topics here interesting as well.

    Best, Ilka

Tony - March 16, 2017

Hi there… Have known this since I was a kid (meteorology being my hobby) We had a similar problem (not with eggs) with water contamination at lower altitudes. To make water safe, it has to be boiled… but where we lived, in the Alps it ‘boiled’ at 94°C so couldn’tbe used for baby’s drinks or proper cleaning. Village distributed bottled water for everyone…

Tony

    simplyilka - March 27, 2017

    Hi Tony!

    Thanks for sharing 🙂
    And yes, that’s another great example. I’m sure it was interesting living in the Alps. Do you still visit the village there?

    Thanks for stopping by and all the best to you. – Ilka

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