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 a shell with a greenish colour.
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 gotten over its appearance and smell, a century egg actually tastes okay, and has a surprisingly creamy, succulent flavour.
Tips for Eating A Century Egg:
- If you are a novice, you may want to first try cooked century eggs, to slowly ease your palate into the unique taste.
- 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 recipe.
- 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 awakens 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 a “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.