The secret of the century eggs

The story of Patrice Lewis

Eggs are nothing if not versatile, garnishing meals for diners all over the world. What happens when your hens lay more eggs than you can eat? Even more difficult, what if you don’t have a refrigerator to handle the extras?

Different cultures, all over the world, have found ingenious ways to preserve it
egg. One of these technologies is the Chinese “egg of the century”. Alternately called hundred year eggs, thousand year eggs, millennium eggs, or black eggs, these are simply chicken or duck eggs preserved through the chemical effect of ash, salt, mud, and quicklime.

centuries ago

Century eggs are said to date back 600 years or so in Hunan Province, during the Ming Dynasty. There are always “origin” stories that try to explain how something started. There is a lot to horn
an egg, from a farmer who accidentally leaves eggs in slaked lime to a romantic boy who leaves eggs to his will in an ash pit. Of course, no one knows. but
Here are some of the distinctive features of the century egg that have been observed
For centuries, most of it has come from salt used in preservation.

Sometimes the shape of tree rings is evident when the eggs are cut
lengthwise. The most obvious are the salt crystals that linger on the outside
The egg, and looks like pine tree arches, or snowflakes.

Traditional century eggs are covered with mud, ash, rice husks, and other substances that stain the eggshell, darkening it, and preserving the color of the egg.

Although century eggs are most often associated with China, similarly preserved eggs are consumed in Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan, Laos, Cambodia, and other Southeast Asian countries.

the operation

The process of making century eggs can be divided into traditional versus modern (commercial) techniques. Historically, eggs were soaked in an infusion of tea, then coated (mud) with a mixture of wood ash (oak is considered the best), calcium oxide (quicklime), and sea salt. alkalinity
The salt raises the pH of the egg to about 9 to 12, causing some of it to crack
proteins and fats and reduce the risk of spoilage. plastered eggs
They are wrapped in rice husks to prevent the eggs from sticking together, and then placed in tight baskets or jars. Clay takes several months to dry and harden
At what point are eggs ready to eat?

Not surprisingly, modern chemistry has had an impact on this cottage industry, turning it into a routine commercial production. The critical step is the introduction of hydroxide and sodium ions into the egg, and this process is accomplished by conventional and commercial methods. Chemically, the process can be accelerated by using the toxic chemical lead oxide, but for obvious reasons, this is illegal. If you are going to try your hand at making century eggs at home, food grade zinc oxide is a safer alternative.

The salt crystals remaining on the egg whites form the classic “pine tree” pattern known as Songhwa.

Appearance and taste

The colors of the century eggs are striking. Instead of a white shell with a yellow and white inside, the eggshells become mottled, the yolk turns anywhere from dark green to gray with a creamy texture, and the egg whites turn dark brown and gelatinous. This is known as the Maillard reaction, a
Browning effect in a highly alkaline environment. most valuable
Century eggs (called Songhua eggs) amazing crystal pine tree development
pattern. The egg white takes on a salty taste, and the yolk smells of ammonia and sulfur with a flavor described as “complex and earthy”.

If you shiver at the thought of eating one of these delicacies, keep in mind that a century egg is not nibbled like a hard-boiled egg after it has been dipped in salt. The egg can be sliced ​​and arranged on a plate like the petals of a flower, with an attractive garnish in the centre. Or it can be sliced ​​into circles, dressed with herbs and spices, and served as an appetizer. Or it can be cut in half and decorated with caviar and seaweed. Century eggs are also chopped up and added to rice dishes, soups, stir-fries, congee dishes, and other culinary specialties.

However, century eggs are an acquired taste outside the palates of most Westerners. However, keep in mind that in 2021, the Chinese have consumed
About 2.8 million tons of Songhua eggs (horn eggs with pine pattern).
Read that again: 2.8 million tons. That’s a lot of eggs.

“At the first bite, you might feel it have accents of sulfur and ammonia,” explains one enthusiast. “But after the first taste, you’ll enjoy a world of very tasty umami ingredients that are denatured from egg proteins under the pressure of a higher pH value.”

While it is doubtful that century eggs would develop this level of enthusiasm
In the West, it’s a testament to how creative many cultures around the world have been when it comes to preserving their surplus eggs.

Patrice Lewis She is a wife, mother, homemaker, homeschooler, author, blogger, columnist, and speaker. An advocate for simple living and self-sufficiency, she has practiced and written about self-reliance and preparedness for nearly 30 years. She is experienced at home
animal husbandry and small scale dairy production, food preservation and canning, country hauling, home business, home schooling,
Managing personal finances and food self-sufficiency.
Follow her website or blog

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