Century Eggs: A History of China's Preserved Delicacy

In the realm of unique and intriguing delicacies, Century Eggs stand out as a remarkable culinary marvel. Known as "Pidan" in Mandarin, these preserved eggs have captured the curiosity and fascination of food enthusiasts around the world. 

Originating from China, Century Eggs are a testament to the art of preservation and the ingenuity of ancient culinary techniques. In this article, we embark on a journey to explore the history, preparation methods, cultural significance, and culinary applications of Century Eggs—an enigmatic and beloved delicacy that has withstood the test of time.

The Origins of Century Eggs: A Necessity Turned Delicacy

The origins of Century Eggs can be traced back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in China. It is believed that the preservation of eggs was initially a practical solution to preserve surplus eggs for consumption during times of scarcity. Farmers and households discovered that by coating eggs in a mixture of clay, ash, quicklime, salt, and rice straw, the eggs could be preserved for several months.

Over time, the preservation process evolved, and Century Eggs became more refined, gaining popularity among Chinese communities as a unique and prized delicacy.

The Preparation of Century Eggs: A Mysterious Transformation

The preparation of Century Eggs is a process that marries art with science. Fresh duck, chicken, or quail eggs are carefully selected, and their outer shells are wiped clean. The eggs are then soaked in a brine solution consisting of water, salt, and alkaline substances such as quicklime or wood ash.

After several weeks of soaking, the eggs are removed from the brine and wrapped in a mixture of clay, ash, and rice straw to further seal and preserve them. The wrapped eggs are then left to ferment and age for several weeks to months, depending on the desired intensity of flavour and texture.

During this fermentation process, the alkaline solution breaks down the proteins and fats in the egg, resulting in a gelatinous texture and the distinct dark amber colour that Century Eggs are renowned for.

The Transformation of Flavours: A Delicacy Emerges

The preservation process imparts Century Eggs with a uniquely complex and umami-rich flavour profile. The eggs develop a pungent and slightly sulfurous aroma, often compared to blue cheese or strong aged cheese.

The yolk undergoes a curious transformation, turning into a creamy, custard-like consistency with a dark greenish-grey hue. The translucent egg white takes on a jelly-like texture with a delicate and translucent appearance. These changes give Century Eggs their unmistakable appearance and unique taste.

Cultural Significance and Culinary Applications

Century Eggs have significant cultural and culinary importance in Chinese cuisine. Traditionally, they are served as a delicacy during special occasions, such as Chinese New Year and other festive celebrations. The bold and distinctive flavours of Century Eggs complement a variety of dishes, lending their rich umami essence to soups, porridge, and congee.

One popular preparation is "Tofu and Century Egg Salad," where sliced Century Eggs are paired with silky tofu, drizzled with a tangy soy sauce dressing, and garnished with scallions and cilantro. The contrast of textures and flavours makes this dish a delightful and refreshing appetizer.

Modern Interpretations and Global Appeal

In recent years, Century Eggs have garnered attention beyond China, finding their way onto the menus of contemporary restaurants and the kitchens of adventurous home cooks worldwide. Chefs and food enthusiasts have embraced the challenge of incorporating Century Eggs into modern dishes, experimenting with new flavour combinations and culinary techniques.

Century Eggs have also become popular as an ingredient in fusion cuisine, finding their way into sushi rolls, rice bowls, and salads, where their unique taste adds a surprising twist to familiar dishes.

Preserving Tradition: Challenges and the Future of Century Eggs

Despite the growing popularity of Century Eggs, the traditional art of preserving these delicacies faces challenges. The preservation process is time-consuming and requires traditional expertise, making it less viable in today's fast-paced food production industry. Additionally, some people may find the strong flavours and textures of Century Eggs an acquired taste, limiting their appeal to a broader audience.

However, the appreciation for traditional culinary heritage and the growing interest in unique and authentic food experiences may help preserve the legacy of Century Eggs. As more people embrace the rich history and cultural significance of this preserved delicacy, the future of Century Eggs as a celebrated culinary treasure looks promising.


Century Eggs, with their enigmatic history and unique transformation, stand as a testament to the ingenuity and artistry of Chinese culinary traditions. From a practical solution to preserve eggs to a beloved delicacy enjoyed during special occasions, Century Eggs have evolved into a symbol of cultural heritage and gastronomic exploration.

As we continue to embrace the rich flavours and textures of Century Eggs, we celebrate the ancient techniques that have preserved this culinary marvel for centuries. Whether served in traditional Chinese dishes or incorporated into contemporary fusion cuisine, Century Eggs continue to captivate palates and ignite the curiosity of food enthusiasts worldwide, ensuring that their curious case endures as a cherished delicacy for generations to come.