Chinese Century eggs, black egg is cut showing dark yolk. Black background. Top view

Is it safe to eat century eggs?

Pidan go by many names, but all of them suggest that these eggs are really old. Century eggs, 100-year eggs, 1000-year eggs, and millennium eggs are all names for the boldly odored, colored, and flavored preserved eggs that originated in China.

Typically they are made using duck eggs, but they can also be made with chicken or quail eggs. The process starts by making a mud-like alkaline mixture of wood ash, salt, clay, and calcium oxide (also known as quicklime) or calcium hydroxide (also called slaked lime).

The traditional mix also often includes brewed tea. The eggs are wrapped in this black mud, coated in rice husk, packed into a vessel where contact with the outside air is minimal, and left to cure for anywhere from a few weeks to several months.

Commercially produced century eggs can be made in as little as two weeks. So no, these preserved eggs are not really 100 years old, but the dramatic change they go through definitely makes them look like they are.

Are they safe to eat?

The short answer is yes. Century eggs, like many preserved foods, are safe to eat, but it is important to check them for signs of spoilage before eating. While the smell of ammonia will always be present in century eggs, an overwhelmingly bad ammonia odor or moldy stench are signs that things have gone wrong.

The shell should be visibly intact with no cracks, holes, or dents. When shaken or tapped, there should be no rattling sound.

What do century eggs taste like and how are they eaten?

The aroma of these preserved eggs is no doubt pungent, smelling intensely eggy and faintly of ammonia. The taste is salty and complex, with a gelatinous white and creamy yolk.

While the smell and certainly the sight can be shocking, Carrel Kam, director of the popular Yung Kee Restaurant in Hong Kong, tells BBC, “It’s psychological — just like the idea of blue cheese.

The smell is terrible but the taste is good.” At Yung Kee Restaurant, century eggs are typically served as an appetizer with pickled ginger. The spicy and sweet ginger acts as a balancing palate cleanser alongside the rich and velvety egg.

Century eggs are often served with congee — a simple rice porridge — and century egg congee with lean pork and scallions is a comfort food for many.

The eggs can also be served as a simple snack with soy sauce, vinegar, and chilies and pair especially well with an ice-cold beer. They are also popularly served alongside silken tofu with a similar sauce.


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