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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

Are Century Eggs Soaked in Horse Urine?

By October 16, 2008

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Century Egg (irrational_cat, Flickr

I love Japanese cookies and candies. I have come to the conclusion the Kasugai fruit gummy candies are dusted with crack rather than sugar because nothing should be that addictive (joking! it's sugar... at least I think so... let me taste another to check). When I stock up on candy at my favorite Asian market, I go down every aisle and sometimes try a new food. That is how I discovered Century Eggs.

A century egg, also known as hundred-year egg, thousand-year egg is a Chinese delicacy. A century egg is made by preserving an egg, usually from a duck, such that the shell becomes speckled, the white becomes a dark brown gelatinous material, and the yolk becomes deep green and creamy. The surface of the egg white may be covered with beautiful crystalline frost or pine-tree patterns. The white supposedly doesn't have much flavor, but the yolk smells strongly of ammonia and sulfur and is said to have a complex earthy flavor. I say 'is said' because I haven't tried a century egg yet. Oh, I would, but only if it was made right.

Ideally, century eggs are made by storing raw eggs for a few months in a mixture of wood ash, salt, lime, and maybe tea with rice straw or clay. The alkaline chemicals raise the pH of the egg to 9-12 or even higher and break down some of the proteins and fats in the egg into flavorful molecules. The ingredients I named are not the ingredients listed on the eggs that I have seen in stores. Those eggs are made from duck eggs, lye or sodium hydroxide, and salt. That sounds scary, but it's probably ok to eat. The problem is, the curing process can be accelerated by adding another ingredient to the eggs... lead oxide. Lead oxide, like any other lead compound, is poisonous. This hidden ingredient is most likely going to be found in eggs from China, where the faster method of preserving the eggs is more common. Sometimes zinc oxide is used instead of lead oxide. Though zinc oxide is an essential nutrient, too much of it can lead to a copper deficiency, so it's not really something you want to eat either. How do you avoid poisonous century eggs? Look for packages that explicitly state the eggs were made without lead oxide. Don't assume the eggs are lead-free just because lead isn't listed as an ingredient. Personally, I'd avoid the eggs from China no matter how they are packaged because there is still a big problem with inaccurate labeling.

Many people avoid eating century eggs because of the rumor that they have been soaked in horse urine. I don't believe there is any horse urine involved, since urine is slightly acidic, not basic. If anyone knows otherwise, by all means post a comment. If you know of a good place to buy non-Chinese century eggs in the Myrtle Beach area, let me know. I'd love to try an egg, but I don't have any urge to incur heavy metal poisoning from the experience.

Comments

October 18, 2008 at 9:17 pm
(1) Heather says:

how ever it is made, it sounds really gross!

November 2, 2008 at 6:24 pm
(2) rebecca says:

horse urine is basic because of thier diet

March 7, 2009 at 1:50 pm
(3) Jeanne Lee says:

According to Wikipedia, significant quantities of ammonia are produced through the bacterial action on urea which changes the pH of urine from acidic to basic. Uh…

March 20, 2009 at 10:55 am
(4) gloria says:

These eggs are delicious. They’re very often used in rice porridge.

April 9, 2009 at 12:44 am
(5) T$ says:

They aren’t soaked in horse piss. Even though the Chinese may be a little different from us when it comes to foods, but they’re not SkankNasty!

May 30, 2009 at 3:32 am
(6) Dan W says:

as gross as it may be these are very delicious! i had them in the philipines.

November 22, 2010 at 9:40 am
(7) aurora21 says:

I loooove century eggs
soooo delicious
theyre rlly gd with porridge :)

January 14, 2011 at 11:23 am
(8) ryanboo says:

Don’t eat it!! I consider myself an adventurous eater but these things? Never again. The flavor is putrid and the yolk sticks to the roof of your mouth so you can’t get rid of it. I have never eaten something that so nearly made me vomit.

March 25, 2011 at 8:35 am
(9) donna says:

to really appreciate it’s taste, eat it with porridge first. don’t eat it by itself, only an idiot would do that! or, you can eat these eggs by dipping them in soy sauce or oyster sauce, little at a time. you’ll eventually become addicted to them after a while. i know i am now….. :)

May 12, 2011 at 9:00 am
(10) meepok says:

what in the world?

March 30, 2012 at 8:20 am
(11) fit n right says:

wow.just wanna let you know too that they got new discovery now,its their URINE EGG DELICACY.i dont know but for me its really disgusting.

April 12, 2012 at 10:28 am
(12) 2cerlinda2 says:

Century eggs actually taste good if you can appreciate the taste. Don’t worry, you can’t get heavy metal poisoning by just trying one/ eating it occassionally. The chinese like to eat it with pork rice porridge, and add some white pepper, light soya sauce to season.

May 7, 2012 at 12:52 pm
(13) Kye says:

Preserved Duck Egg is preserved for a couple of weeks/months despite of the name of 1000 year old egg. The reason why people dislike it is most likely because they cook it or ate it the wrong way or they simply can’t mentally accept foreign food. Preserved duck egg is usually eaten with congee (rice porridge). It is not meant to be eaten as a whole, it’s to be eaten in small sliced up pieces because the flavor is too rich. Also, eat it slowly to savor the taste. Eat it one piece at a time or eat one piece and eat another food and then eat the egg again. The white or the jelly part of the egg doesn’t have flavor, it is the yolk that has all the flavor, so eat the white and yolk together to enjoy both the texture and taste. Also, to preserve the creaminess of the yolk, the egg shouldn’t be cook for a long time, generally, when the congee is almost done cooking, people just plop them in the congee and it’s ready to serve. Preserved duck is also served as an appetizer and in clear soup.

June 14, 2012 at 3:46 am
(14) Dont EAT! says:

Eww the egg is so gross! dont ever eat it. i tried it before and i hate it. Trust me!

August 7, 2012 at 12:54 am
(15) Mira says:

I love century egg with porridge! But there is the new so called “DELICACY” in China. They call it “VIRGIN BOY EGGS”… The way they do it is disturing. I saw it in the news that they collect urine of male primary school students. They they boil the eggs in URINE!!!! Eewwwww!!! Then they will crack the shell and soak it back in the boiling urine… Yuckyyyyyy… I will never ever try that even if you will give me a million bucks…

October 1, 2012 at 2:20 am
(16) yummy says:

it’s really delicious if you have ‘em with some pickled gingers or garnish it with chilled beancurds with oyster sauce. and it goes so well with porridge! =)

May 31, 2013 at 12:41 pm
(17) Sam says:

lol people really ought to listen to themselves before posting. How ridiculous is a claim that this is made with 1) horse urine, 2) human (child) urine, or 3) any urine.

Would you make food out of urine? No? Well guess what, nobody does.

June 9, 2013 at 2:22 pm
(18) ira says:

ive tried spinach soup with century egg. it was delicious!

July 2, 2013 at 9:47 pm
(19) Boo says:

Remember…Cultures and traditions are very different country to country…
Virgin Boy eggs:

November 17, 2013 at 12:31 am
(20) Kee says:

modern technology actually allows the eggs to be done with tea leaves. it’s definitely safe to eat and it’s a delicacy, just try not to eat the whole egg on it’s own. it’s best to dice it and put it inside a porridge or something… really compliments the flavor and trust me, you will love it. source: im a chinese

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