What is the Century Eggs?

2741 century egg
Photo: Devour.Asia

Also known as century egg, hundred-year egg, thousand-year egg, skin egg, and black egg, the preserved egg is served in the most humble of establishments through to restaurants with three Michelin stars.

They are dark brown in colour with a moss green/blackish slimy center. Century eggs refer to special Chinese preparation wherein chicken/quail/duck eggs are preserved in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quick lime and rice hulls for weeks or months before being consumed. The catch is that the eggs are known to emit a strong urine-like odour owing to its high sulphur and ammonia content, according to ndtv Food.

Century Eggs: Accidental origins

Preserved eggs have a history dating back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and most likely originate in central China’s Hunan Province.

“In China, methods have been developed to preserve eggs in such a way as to cause chemical and physical changes in both egg white and yolk, imparting a new flavor,” wrote Hou Xiangchuan in the peer-reviewed academic journal Food and Nutrition Bulletin. “The earliest known description of an egg preservation method is that of Wang Zizhen during the Ming Dynasty.”

“It gives an acquired fragrance of egg, with a slight odor of ammonia,” says Cheung Long-yin, executive Chinese chef at the Kowloon Shangri-La, “but it tastes like egg on the palate, with a creamy and succulent flavor.”

Cheung says the ideal egg should have a slightly runny, gooey, and creamy egg yolk, with small traces of the yolk sticking to the knife after cutting the egg in half.

How to eat the Century Eggs

A typical way to enjoy the eggs is by pairing them with pickled ginger.

“There are several elements,” says Chan Yan Tak, executive Chinese chef at the Four Seasons in Hong Kong. “The egg is alkaline from its preservation process, and the acidity in pickled ginger brings it to a balance. In terms of texture, the egg is silky smooth, so when you eat it with crunchy pickled ginger, it enhances the flavors.”, cites goldthread2.

• Preserved eggs are also served as a topping for congee, said to be a good introduction for novices.

• Numerous other dishes also include the eggs.

• In Shanghai and Taiwan, they are combined with cold silken tofu, light soy sauce, young ginger, and sesame oil.

• In Hong Kong, they can also be found in pastries as well as mooncakes.

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