A dark brown century egg on a plate with parsley
A century egg is like a work of art because of its intricate pine pattern. (Photo Credit: Boon Tong Kee Singapore amuse bouche thousand year old egg by Flickr user onemorebiteblog, original image has been adapted)

A century egg goes by many names—hundred-year egg, thousand-year egg, millennium egg, pidan, or even stinky brown egg. Regardless of the name, a century egg is not old at all. Instead, chicken or duck eggs are normally covered in an alkaline solution of clay, wood ash, rice husk, quicklime, and salt for a few weeks to a few months. The process turns the yolk green and the whites into a translucent brown jelly. It also gives the egg its distinctive flavour and aroma. Traditionally, each egg is then covered and preserved in a crumbly brown mixture that’s composed of rice husk and clay. Nowadays most eggs sold at Asian supermarkets are cleaned up and have an eggshell that has a greenish colour.

‘A century egg goes by many names—hundred-year egg, thousand-year egg, millennium egg, pidan, or even stinky brown egg. Regardless of the name, a century egg is not old at all.’ Click To Tweet

Century eggs not only have a quirky name, they also have a peculiar appearance and an unusual smell. Eggs that came covered in the brown mixture have a barnyard smell. Once you have removed the husk, the eggshell has an unappealing greenish grey colour. After peeling off the shell like a hard boiled egg, a translucent dark brown jelly egg is revealed. Good century eggs sometimes have an intricate pine pattern near their surface. That’s why century eggs are sometimes referred to as “pine-patterned eggs”. After admiring the unique pattern, you can halve the egg with a knife to find a runny, gooey green egg yolk and a translucent brown, rubber-like white. I find the egg yolk mesmerising as it’s surrounded by concentric rings of brown, dark blue, and green. By now you may have also caught a whiff of a slight odour that is a mixture of sulphur and ammonia. Here’s a good reason to pay good money for your century eggs, as some say the odour of good quality century eggs is less pungent.

A brown egg with a swampy, green egg yolk and a funky smell. You must be asking yourself now if you still want to put this egg in your mouth. In my experience, once you’ve got over its appearance and smell, a century egg actually tastes alright and has a surprisingly creamy, succulent flavour.

A normal egg, a salted duck egg, and a century egg on a plate, whole and halved
Here are the three eggs commonly found in a Cantonese kitchen—(in clockwise direction) a normal egg, a salted duck egg, and a century egg. When halved, a salted duck egg has an intense, orange yolk while a century egg has a yolk surrounded by unique concentric rings. (Photo Credit: Rita Suttarno)

Tips for Eating A Century Egg:

  • If you are a century egg novice and want to slowly ease your palate into the unique taste of century eggs, you may want to first try cooked century eggs.
    • In Cantonese cuisine, it is quite common to use both salted duck eggs and century eggs in a dish, such as this spinach dish with salted and century eggs and this steamed three eggs dish.
    • A century egg pastry is also a great way to make acquaintance with the egg as the distinct smell and flavour of the egg is neutralised by the sweet lotus seed paste and buttery crust. Hang Hueng is one of the traditional Hong Kong bakeries that is famous for their century egg pastries.
    • Congee with pork and century egg is one of the most popular Cantonese comfort foods. Cooking congee with diced century eggs is supposed to give the congee a beautiful, velvety texture.
  • When you’re ready to become a century egg expert, here are some ways to enjoy the egg in all its glory.
    • Instead of cooking the egg in congee, try sprinkling some diced century eggs and chopped spring onions over your congee as toppings.
    • You can also quarter a century egg and serve it with some pink pickled ginger. The sweet and spicy flavour of the pickled ginger complements the creamy flavour of the egg perfectly.
    • My favourite is the century egg and tofu salad. The silky texture of the tofu and egg gives your tongue a gentle massage, while the refreshing flavour of the soy sauce-vinegar dressing awakes your palate. My words don’t really do this unique eating experience justice. You really have to try it to understand it.
  • Even after you’re accustomed to the egg, do not gulp down a whole century egg as its sharp flavour intensifies and can become quite revolting.

Did You Know This About the Century Egg?

  • Westerners often treat century eggs as delicacies but they are considered cheap, common food in Asia.
  • It is believed that century eggs were discovered by accident hundreds of years ago when a few duck eggs were found lying in a pool of mortar. It may be the reason why the egg is called “century” egg?

Emmy from Emmymade in Japan shows you how to properly savour this special brown egg.

Would you dare (or have you dared) to sink your teeth into a century egg? Learn how to eat even more of the best food from around the world right here.

A century egg goes by many names: thousand year egg, millennium egg, preserved egg or pidan. Let us show you how to properly savour its gooey green yolk.

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About Anna de Waard-Leung

Anna loves her heels, wine, and food - in that exact order. Her latest food addictions include Shiraz Mourvèdre, chicken tikka masala, sushi, and ossenworst (a raw beef sausage originating in Amsterdam).


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