What Is Avgolemono And What Does It Taste Like?

The craving hits on a rainy afternoon, and the only thing that can satisfy it is a creamy, zesty, and lemony soup often filled with steamy orzo or rice, tender chicken meat, and hearty broth. And on a hot day, we hanker for something cold and silky with a lemony kick, perfect for dipping some refreshing veggies into. Fans of avgolemono know it in the US as a type of Greek chicken soup, and while that's one form of it, there is so much more to this delicious creation.

Avgolemono is made with eggs, lemon juice, and broth. It can be used as a sauce on meats or vegetables or as a thickening and flavoring agent in a wide variety of soups. The true wonder of avgolemono is its extremely smooth texture, which it achieves without cream or dairy of any kind.

It has been a staple of Greek cuisine for centuries but also has become very popular in the United States. But what is its history and how can we cook with avgolemono? Read on to learn more.

What is avgolemono?

Avgolemono is widely considered to be a soup, and can be found in practically any Greek restaurant in America. However, the origins of this dish actually lie in several other Mediterranean countries. According to The Nosher, avgolemono's predecessor was a creamy sauce called agristada that was prepared by Sephardic Jews. Agristada relied on tempered eggs instead of dairy to create a creamy texture that still aligned with strict kosher dietary rules, specifically one prohibiting the mixing of meat and dairy. 

The dish was perfect to consume after a fast, as it was not harsh on the stomach, and was traditionally prepared to break the Yom Kippur fast in Turkey and the Balkan states. Before lemons became a popular crop around the Mediterranean, this precursor to avgolemono was made with verjus, a liquid made from unripe grapes.

As the Iberian Jews who made agristada migrated around the region, they brought their creamy and zesty soup to different parts of the Ottoman Empire. Meeting the region's desire for sour flavors, the dish evolved into avgolemono and became a staple of Greek cuisine. Versions of avgolemono are also important dishes in Italy and Spain; you may know them as bagna brusca and salsa blanca, respectively.

How is avgolemono made?

Avgolemono is a simple dish, consisting of three main ingredients: egg, lemon, and broth. How these three ingredients are combined is what truly makes the dish unique.

The Kitchn breaks down the right way to create the undeniable zest and silkiness all avgolemono lovers crave. To achieve avgolemono's creamy texture, it is important to add the eggs properly. The texture comes from perfectly tempering the eggs before adding them to the broth. If the raw eggs are added directly to the hot broth the eggs will curdle and split, and therefore never reach the velvety smoothness avgolemono is known for. 

The goal is to slowly bring the eggs up to temperature so they won't immediately split or scramble in the hot broth. First, the broth should be taken off the stove's heat. Then, ladle a small amount of broth into the egg and lemon mixture while whisking everything together. Continuously and vigorously whisk to ensure the egg mixture reaches a uniform temperature. After adding enough broth — The Kitchn recommends adding about 2 cups, while Allrecipes suggests 2-3 ladles of broth — the blend of egg, lemon, and broth can be poured back into the pot of broth while stirring. Once that's done, the pot of avgolemono should be brought up to medium heat, never to a boil. 

Reheating leftover avgolemono should be done similarly slowly to preserve the delicate texture; Allrecipes prefers heating it on the stovetop over medium or in the microwave at a lower power setting.

What does avgolemono taste like?

Of course, the real reason avgolemono is so popular is its flavor! It has a unique and exciting taste that can't be found in any other dish. It adds the extra oomph we crave in a savory meat dish or as a veggie dipping sauce and creates a powerful flavor base for soups and stews.

With its silky texture and tangy flavor, avgolemono has a distinctive taste that stands out, whether it's being used as a sauce to finish meat and veggies or as the foundation for a hearty soup. With no dairy ingredients, it doesn't have a milky taste but still remains creamy and smooth in your mouth. While it's dairy-free, avgolemono is not vegan, as it contains eggs and is usually made with chicken broth.

While the lemon juice can add quite a kick of zesty goodness, you can also limit how sour the dish gets by using less lemon. Even people who don't want to be knocked out by a lemony zing can enjoy avgolemono.

How to cook with avgolemono

Avgolemono is a versatile sauce that can be used in many ways. Speaking to The Kitchn, Greek cookbook author Aglaia Kremezi explained its uses.

As a sauce, she says, avgolemono "is used to flavor meat, fish, and vegetables, but there's also soup avgolemono, either with chicken or ... meatballs scented with herbs and cooked in vegetable or meat broth, which is then thickened and flavored with avgolemono." Kremezi explains that avgolemono was initially used to enhance "frugal dishes" made from "scraps of chicken or meat and bones." With a little egg, lemon, and culinary magic, these humble ingredients were transformed into a "hearty family dish."

When avgolemono became more associated with "the Greek urban cuisine," Kremezi notes that it was "often thickened excessively with flour — like sauce mornay — to dress all kinds of braised meat and vegetables in an unctuous, tangy cream."

Avgolemono is often served as a sauce with vegetables such as artichoke, or with a Greek dish of stuffed grape leaves called dolma. While the most familiar use for it is in a hearty chicken soup, it is also used in many stews made with rice or orzo.

Where to buy avgolemono

Has all this talk of the creamy, delicious avgolemono left you craving this zesty dish? If so, you're in luck, because you can purchase it fairly easily anywhere in the U.S.

Depending on how you want to use avgolemono, it is possible to purchase in stores. Avgolemono can be purchased at any Greek restaurant or Greek grocery store, of course, but is also more widely available. It is frequently sold in the soup aisle of standard grocery stores as pre-made Greek Chicken Soup. This is the most common and popular type of avgolemono, so it tends to be the most widely available.

However, if you want to use avgolemono as a base to make a different type of soup or as a sauce, you won't be as likely to find it in your average grocery store. Never fear, the key ingredients — egg, lemon, and broth — are easily accessible items you might already have at home. After carefully tempering the eggs and whisking it all together, you can have your own homemade avgolemono in no time!

Nutritional information about avgolemono

Avgolemono is simple, straightforward, and has clear nutritional value. It is hearty and contains lots of protein from the eggs and broth.

The lemon juice adds all the benefits of citrus, with citric acid, fiber, and vitamin C. Incorporating lemon into your diet can help boost immunity, prevent anemia, encourage good digestive health, and lower risks of high cholesterol and cancer (via Healthline). The chicken broth used to make the dish will also affect avgolemono's nutritional value, adding salt and sodium that should be consumed in moderate amounts. The best way to control the sodium level of your dish is to make your own broth.

According to SFGate, avgolemono is low in sugar and fat, but it can be moderately high in net carbohydrates. This shouldn't be an issue for the average person's diet, but if you're specifically watching your carb intake, it might be something to keep in mind.

The wonder of avgolemono is how it achieves its creamy texture without any dairy products, so is a great sauce or soup base for people who cannot eat dairy. Whether you're using it as a soup or a sauce, avgolemono is a healthy and delicious way to avoid dairy while still enjoying a smooth and silky texture and wonderful Mediterranean flavors.