What is a Century Egg?

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Century eggs, also known as pidan or thousand-year-old eggs, are a unique culinary creation enjoyed in Malaysia and across Asia. These preserved duck eggs boast a distinctive appearance and flavor profile, sparking curiosity and sometimes apprehension in equal measure. Let’s delve into the world of century eggs in Malaysia, exploring their history, taste, and diverse culinary applications.

An Egg Preserved by Time

The exact origin of century eggs remains shrouded in mystery. Legend suggests they arose from an accidental preservation process involving burying eggs in lime and wood ash for months. Archaeological evidence points to their existence in China as early as the Ming Dynasty. (1368-1644)

Contrary to it’s name, they are not really aged for a century. The preservation process involves soaking duck eggs in a brine solution containing various ingredients like tea leaves, salt, lime, and wood ash. This process transforms the white into a translucent jelly with a strong ammonia-like aroma, while the yolk deepens to a creamy, greenish-grey color.

A Unique Flavor Profile

For the uninitiated, the visual and olfactory aspects of century eggs can be off-putting. However, those willing to look past it, they’ll be pleased to discover a complex and intriguing flavor profile. The ammonia aroma dissipates on consumption, revealing a rich, savory richness with subtle herbal notes and a creamy texture.

The unique taste often draws comparisons to aged cheeses, truffles, or even foie gras. This intensity makes century eggs an acquired taste, often enjoyed in small portions or combined with other ingredients to balance the flavor.

Century Eggs
Source: Onolicious

A Versatile Ingredient

In Malaysia, century eggs transcend mere curiosity and feature prominently in various culinary contexts. They are often eaten simply with ginger, chili paste, and soy sauce, highlighting their individual taste. Sliced century eggs add textural and flavor complexity to salads, congee porridge, and noodle dishes like loh mee.

They also feature in more elaborate dishes like zhajiangmian (noodles with fermented black bean sauce), where their richness complements the savory sauce. Even desserts incorporate century eggs, with some mooncakes boasting a century egg yolk filling for a surprising twist.

This versatility reflects the adventurous spirit of Malaysian cuisine, embracing unique ingredients and creating exciting flavor combinations.

Century eggs in Malaysia represent more than just a distinctive food; they embody a cultural heritage interwoven with tradition, experimentation, and a willingness to explore unique flavors. While their appearance and aroma may challenge palates unfamiliar with fermented foods, their complex taste and versatility offer a rewarding experience for those willing to delve deeper. So, next time you encounter a century egg in Malaysia, remember the fascinating history and culinary potential hiding beneath its unusual exterior.

Article curated by Farzana Iwani