The Peculiar History Of The New York Egg Cream

There's no egg. There's no cream. So why the heck is New York Egg Cream called New York Egg Cream? By many accounts, it boils down to the equivalent of a decades-long round of Telephone, the classic children's game that starts with a whispered pass-it-along phrase or sentence and morphs into something entirely different by the time it reaches the end of the line. For the purposes of discussion, let's agree with Merriam-Webster's definition of a classic egg cream: "a drink made of milk, soda water, and chocolate syrup." When it comes to digging through the anecdotal evidence of the where, when, and why of who invented the egg cream that's where things get murky.

One widely accepted theory points to Louis Auster, an early 20th-century immigrant from Europe who opened a candy shop in New York City's Lower East Side. 6 Square Feet posits Auster created the concoction by accident, although there's no explanation regarding what, exactly, he was aiming for when he hit upon the formula for the beverage that took the neighborhood, then city, by storm. The NYC news outlet cites evidence from a 1964 article in the New York Tribune to support the theory. The article, titled "The Egg Cream Mystique," quotes Louis Auster's son, Emmanuel: "We started at Stanton-Lewis Streets on the Lower East Side. About 1900, my father originated egg cream chocolate. We made all our syrups."

A decent theory, but it doesn't address the mystery of the egg and the cream.

Several parties claim the invention of the egg cream

Other theories abound. For instance, 6 Square Feet suggests egg cream comes from a faulty translation. Boris Thomashefsky, an immigrant from Ukraine who staged the first Yiddish theater production in the United States (via The Thomashefskys), rose to international fame, ultimately touring the U.S. and Europe. Legend has it, Thomashefsky returned to New York after a visit to France and asked a New York City soda jerk to recreate a drink he'd had in Paris, "chocolat et creme." And, just like in a good round of Telephone, "chocolat et creme" became "et creme," and "et creme" became egg cream.

An explanation cited by Merriam-Webster suggests the word egg in egg cream may actually be the Americanized version of the Yiddish word for authentic or genuine. 6 Square Feet mentions a similar theory, positing that egg cream is a derivation of echt keem, the Yiddish word for "pure sweetness."

One theory suggests the egg cream we know today — a blend of milk, soda water, and chocolate syrup — may have contained an egg in early incarnations. According to Art of Manliness, retired professor Daniel Bell claims his uncle invented the egg cream in the 1920s. He was already serving chocolate syrup and seltzer topped with a scoop of chocolate ice cream when he experimented with subbing cream for the ice cream and adding an egg. The drink was a hit, but cost-cutting measures during the Great Depression led to the elimination of the egg, and milk replaced cream.