The embryonic heart tube consists of an outer myocardial tube, a middle layer of cardiac jelly, and an inner endocardial tube. It is said that tubular hearts pump the blood by peristaltoid contractions. The traditional concept of cardiac peristalsis sees the cyclic deformations of pulsating heart tubes as concentric narrowing and widening of tubes of circular cross-section. We have visualized the cross-sectional deformations of contracting embryonic hearts in chick embryos (HH-stages 9-17) using real-time high-resolution optical coherence tomography. Cardiac contractions are detected from HH-stage 10 onward. During the cardiac cycle, the myocardial tube undergoes concentric narrowing and widening while the endocardial tube undergoes eccentric narrowing and widening, having an elliptic cross-section at end-diastole and a slit-shaped cross-section at end-systole. The eccentric deformation of the endocardial tube is the consequence of an uneven distribution of the cardiac jelly. Our data show that the cyclic deformations of pulsating embryonic heart tubes run other than originally thought. There is evidence that heart tubes of elliptic cross-section might pump blood with a higher mechanical efficiency than those of circular-cross section. The uneven distribution of cardiac jelly seems to prefigure the future AV and cono-truncal endocardial cushions.