If you find yourself wandering down the streets of Hong Kong, chances are that you will come across the century egg. Thinking of trying it out? Well, considering its health benefits, you might as well. But before you do so, go through this NutriNeat piece to find out what you should expect.
When You are Hungry!
The story goes that, over 600 years ago in the Ming Dynasty era in China, a hungry man came upon some eggs soaking in pickled lime, which was to be used as mortar for building the foundation for a house. He added salt to the eggs and instantly fell in love with the strong flavor. That is how the century egg first came into being.
China is known for a lot of different things – The Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the giant panda, Bruce Lee, and more recently, the spectacular Beijing Olympics, to name a few. However, there is one more thing that China is famous for – its variety of exotic foods!
Quite frankly, the word exotic doesn’t even begin to cover it when trying to describe some of the more fancy delicacies of China. The list of edibles there is perhaps larger than that of the entire world combined, and sometimes their method of preparation is simply bizarre. And yet, authentic Chinese food is considered by many among the best in the world, and is known for its great health benefits.
Today, we shall be looking at one ‘exotic’ Chinese delicacy – the century egg. It is a popular street food in Asia, and is considered to provide some important health benefits. What it is and what are the benefits of consuming it? Let’s find out.
What is a Century Egg?
A century egg, preserved egg, hundred-year egg, thousand-year-old egg, or millennium egg, is basically a Chinese cuisine made by preserving an egg in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime, and rice hulls.
Surely, you might have already guessed that some of its names are actually misnomers. The egg in question here is definitely preserved, but not for a 100 years, let alone 1,000. It is actually preserved for up to a maximum period of 8 months, using a special procedure that brings out its unique flavor.
Though it may seem odd, the century egg is actually considered an exotic delicacy in Asia. Many claim that it has a number of added health benefits too as compared to normal eggs.
How is it Made
The century egg is an ancient Chinese delicacy. Traditionally, it is made by preserving duck eggs, quail eggs, or chicken eggs, by wrapping them inside plaster coating made from a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime, and rice hull, for several weeks to several months. Each egg is individually coated with lime, ash and clay, and then rolled in a mass of rice hull to prevent it from sticking to the other eggs. The eggs thus coated are placed inside a cloth-covered jar or wooden basket.
The mud in the coating mixture slowly dries and hardens over time. During this period, certain important chemical reactions take place within the egg. The lime causes the egg to age faster, and its yolk turns into a dark green to gray color, and develops a creamy consistency. It also acquires a strong odor of sulfur and ammonia. The egg white too becomes a dark brown colored translucent jelly, having a salty flavor.
The main agent responsible for these transformations in a century egg are the alkaline materials in it. They gradually raise the pH of the egg to 12 or more, resulting in the breakdown of the complex, flavorless proteins and fats in the egg, producing a number of smaller strongly flavored compounds.
In more recent times, the century egg is made by preserving it with sodium and alkaline hydroxide.
Appearance and Taste
These images show what a typical century egg looks like. It is aged, as described above, and considered to have matured when the coating is about a fourth of an inch thick. The egg is then unwrapped and peeled, revealing a smooth coffee-white color, and a gelatin-like texture.
The yolk, on exposure to air, loses some of its greenish-gray color. Typically, one will notice different sized rings surrounding the yolk, and greenish specks on the inside of the shell.
Clearly, from its appearance, one is likely to ask – is the century egg safe to eat? The answer is ‘yes’. People all over Asia have been enjoying the unique taste and flavor of century eggs for hundreds of years. It is a tried and tested delicacy, which is definitely safe to consume, if you can consume it, that is!
So what does a century egg taste like? Well, it is characterized by an extremely strong and almost pungent sulfuric odor, which might not sit well with many people. However, if you can manage to get past that and put one in your mouth, the strong and salty taste of it can turn out to be very addictive, leaving you wanting more.
Century Egg Nutrition and Health Benefits
For the larger part, the century egg has nearly the same nutritional value as that of a normal egg. However, during the curing process, certain favorable changes do take place in it. For one, the preserved egg has more protein and lesser carbohydrate content as compared to fresh eggs. It also retains all the other beneficial micro-nutrients that are found in normal fresh eggs. These include vitamin A, and B vitamins such as B-12 and riboflavin.
It is also an excellent source of iron, selenium, phosphorus, as well as vitamin D. It has a slightly higher calorie content compared to normal eggs. The Chinese consider the century egg to be a good aphrodisiac and a healthy high-protein snack. It is believed that regular consumption lowers blood pressure, and improves appetite, vision, as well as liver functioning.
How to Eat Century Eggs
The century egg is an Asian delicacy, and thus, is best complemented by oriental dishes. The most common method of preparation is by boiling, poaching, and even frying them. They are served as an appetizer or along with Asian rice porridge. To balance the strong flavor, ginger, soy, or sesame oil may be used. It even goes well with tofu and yogurt.
Century eggs remain fresh and consumable for up to 2 weeks at room temperature, and for up to a month when refrigerated, after peeling.
The century egg is known for its strong flavor. It’s a high protein food, thought to impart some important health benefits. So, if your palate can handle it, do give the century egg a try. It might not miraculously cure you of all your small and big health issues, but it will surely make you proud of having tried out something new, which not many would.