By Gian Franco 2021-03-26

FEATURED PRODUCT: Salted duck egg


The salted egg flavor seems to be the latest darling of an evolving zeitgeist that has transformed food consumption to a tug-of-war between mindful eating and culture-spanning gastronomic experience. Eating habits have become an integral part of “clean living.” Food trends come and go, as consumers carefully consider their food choices according to the origin, preparation, and whether it fits our vegan or paleo diets. But some craft products will always find their way to the experience-hungry generation. As wanderlust takes over spirit-lifting aspirations and preferences for nomadic lifestyle happens, so does the attraction towards food that offers experience and perceived scarcity. Salted egg turned into powder for chicken wings or into a sauce to be slathered on pasta is the latest food trend that offers that.


Long before it has become the rage among gastronome and cultural aficionados, the red-dyed salted duck egg has been a Filipino diet staple that predates Spanish colonization. Long before the salted egg became the new sour cream and onion powder in fancy packets of gourmet potato chips, it has always been an economic protein source alternative for Filipinos with less to spare for an elaborate meat viand. But salted eggs are commonly used as a garnish in salads or as toppings on rice cakes such as puto or tamales to complement the sweetness. Filipinos rave about a perfect salted egg that oozes with grease coming from the golden yolk with custard consistency, sandy texture, and umami finish. The egg white should feel crumbly and salty, not as dense as the egg white of boiled chicken egg.


Curing duck eggs in salt is originally a Chinese method of prolonging shelf life that has been practiced since the fifth century. Chinese traders brought the tradition to neighboring countries before the arrival of Europeans in Southeast Asia. In ancient Chinese medicinal tradition, duck eggs are used for this processing because they tend to be denser in nutrients than chicken eggs. Salted eggs in the Philippines come from native mallard ducks (Itik), raised, and fed organically by smallholder farmers that ensure a steady supply for the country’s balut and salted egg industry. Duck farming is an important sub-sector of the Philippine poultry industry that is less expensive and easier to sustain. The sub-industry has augmented the income of Filipinos in rural areas during the COVID-19 pandemic. A thousand native mallards can lay close to thousand eggs every day; unfortunately, production figures have been declining to almost a half due to climate change. Nevertheless, salted eggs remain relatively cheap and still in demand, especially during the nationwide quarantines. They are sold in small stalls in the wet market and supermarkets located in urban centers. The Philippines also export salted eggs to countries


Similar to the Chinese tradition, Filipino producers make their salted eggs by submerging them in a mixture of clay or ash, table salt, and water. The “Pateros method”—named after the municipality in Metro Manila known for its balut and salted egg industry—follows a calculated ratio to achieve the ideal taste and color of the yolk. Fresh duck eggs are covered in a muddy brine solution, lightly wrapped in newspapers, and packed together in newspaper-lined wooden boxes to slow down the dehydration. The curing process takes about 12 to 14 days, after which the eggs are cleaned with water and brush before slow-boiling them for 30 minutes. Salted eggs in the Philippines are usually dyed red to distinguish them from fresh eggs—hence the term “Itlog na Pula”, literally meaning “red eggs.” A perfectly cured salted duck egg should come out with a greasy and deep yellow or marigold yolk. Alternatively, salted eggs can be made at home by storing duck eggs in a glass or plastic container filled with clean brine solution. Salting usually takes about 4 to 5 weeks, depending on the temperature of the water—the warmer it is, the faster the eggs will salt.


Notably, the Chinese are fond of filling their mooncakes with a salted yolk that balances out the saccharine red bean or lotus seed paste. Malaysians are even crazier for the salted egg as they mash and cook it down into a versatile umami sauce that can be poured into pasta or ramen to add a creamier and opulent taste. Filipinos like to keep it basic though: they take their salted egg with diced tomatoes and onions as a viand to their white rice. Salted egg is also a favorite ingredient to a refreshing kinilaw. The acidity of vinegar and calamansi juice neutralize the salinity of salted eggs to reveal the sweet savoriness of the delicacy. From viand to snack, salted egg is now a flavor of export-ready chips that found local success among millennials and balikbayan (returning Filipino citizens). Filipinos are also currently obsessed with the salted ice cream flavor in ice cream. The salted egg ice cream was described as creamy and sweet-savory, but also grainy because of the yolk. 


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