It was about three years ago now that the idea of using salt-cured egg yolks as a seasoning began to catch on – and just to prove how one seemingly niche concept can go a long way, today it pops up fairly regularly. Grating it onto pasta and steak tartare has become almost commonplace at restaurants hoping to add a little dash of the exotic.
In London, one of The Other Naughty Piglet’s most ordered dishes is its XO linguine with cured egg yolk, while Guardian food critic Jay Rayner recently dubbed Forest Side in Cumbria’s salt-cured egg yolk with wind-dried ham and black truffle “the best ham and eggs you will ever eat.”
We could go on about how it’s made its way into sweet desserts too (from a snickerdoodle at Chicago’s East-West mashup The Bakery at Fat Rice, to London’s Chin Chin Dessert Club, which used it in a March tie-up with Cadbury’s crème egg); we could even tell you how fast-casual chain Shake Shack incorporated it into a limited-edition breakfast taco in New York.
But why bother? The cured egg yolk is everywhere. Well, not quite everywhere. It’s not in the snack aisles, for instance.
Except of course in Asia, where crisps flavoured with salted egg yolk are so popular that shoppers are limited to five bags a piece, sold for £7.70. What’s all the egg-citement about?
The Chinese have been using salted egg yolk for centuries, and the culinary ingredient followed the diaspora to Malaysia and Singapore. Simple to make, the process involves placing the yolks from eggs (commonly duck) in salt or brine and leaving them for a month until they have hardened.
Traditionally, they are used to make sweet treats like moon cakes or eaten with congee, but this has evolved into a variety of modern applications: as part of desserts, garnishes or (most recently) as a flavouring for snacks.
Singaporean Irvin’s Salted Egg is one of the most popular brands working in the snacks category. Its crisps are dusted with umami-rich salted egg yolk powder, along with spices, dried curry leaf pieces and chilli. These come made from the traditional potato as well as fish skin, which is more highly desired – something the guys over at Sea Chips will be pleased to hear.
Mildly sweet, salty, eggy and aromatic, the brand recently expanded out of Singapore, opening a store in the Philippines last August and one in Hong Kong this February. To prevent mass buying, customers are strictly controlled over how many bags they can buy from the brand’s ‘cartels.’ Though the RRP is around £7.70, resales in mainland China – where the product is not officially available – have reached £9.60 on the nation’s biggest online shopping site, Taobao.
Another well-known vendor of a similar product, The Golden Duck, is doing so well that its co-founders were named in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia list last year.
And it appears that consumers can’t get enough: more than 10 brands in Singapore specialise in salted egg yolk crisps.
So prized is salted egg yolk as a flavouring in parts of Asia that Unilever-owned stock and condiment brand Knorr has even released a ready-made powder that it recommends for use on French fries and pastries.
Grated salted egg yolk can also be used as a lactose-free Parmesan alternative – not that it’s any healthier than regular cheese, mind you.
As independent registered nutritionist Dr. Laura Wyness notes: “All salt-cured foods should be enjoyed in moderation due to the high salt content. Many cheese's have a high salt content, which can put pressure on the kidneys and result in high blood pressure, leading to heart disease and stroke.
“Like cheese, it’s best to not be egg-cessive with the salt-cured egg yolks.”
So definitely not one for the health category then. But what do you think Sparkie, has the hype been eggs-aggerated?
I’m not sure how it would be as a crisp flavouring, but cured egg yolk has done the rounds on social media. It offers a mild savoury flavour, which can be an enhancement to savoury dishes and a point of balance for desserts.
The sweet pairing is probably a step too far for most people, but I think there is potential as a savoury topping if the flavour is as good as social media makes out.