Making 1000 Year Eggs

So, as promised, I spent several hours yesterday making 1000 Year Eggs.  That is, I coated a dozen and a half duck eggs with caustic mud, rolled and pressed them in rice chaff, and set them aside to dry.  Later I placed them in a soil-lined ceramic crock and will let them sit for three to three-and-a-half months, before checking to see if I did it right.  I’m sure if they start to rot instead of chemically change, we will be aware of it.

To start off, the eggs in the mud looked like this:

Duck Eggs Caustic Mud

Duck Eggs Caustic Mud

Then one thoroughly (and evenly) coats them with the mud:

Coating the Eggs

Coating the Eggs

And lastly, after they are covered with rice chaff, they look like this:

Eggs Coated with Mud and Chaff

Eggs Coated with Mud and Chaff

And now we wait. . . three whole months for the chemical conversions to take place inside the egg. After the ingredients to make pidan are mixed, the following chemical reactions take place:

CaO + H2O -> Ca(OH)2
Ca(OH)2 + Na2CO3 -> 2NaOH + CaCO3
Na2O3 + H2O -> 2NaOH + O2
K2O + H2O -> 2KOH

*The Na2O3 and K2O are from the plant ash

Because of the porosity of the egg shell, NaOH is first adsorbed to the surface, and, owing to a change in the osmotic pressure, NaOH enters the egg through the pores and subsequently penetrates the semi-permeable membrane, coming into contact with the egg protein, causing it to become denaturized and hydrolysed into polypeptides and finally into amino acids.

The result is that 1000 Year Eggs are much higher in protein and much lower in carbohydrates than unpreserved duck eggs. Other nutritional elements such as amino acids and fatty acids are about equal between the two egg forms, although the preserved egg generally has a bit less of everything in it.

The recipe follows:

1000 Year Eggs

Ingredients
3 – 4 cups black tea brewed very strong + strained tea leaves
2/3 cup sea salt
3 cups wood ash
3 cups charcoal ash
1 ¾ cups quicklime

18 fresh duck eggs
2-3 pounds rice chaff
Latex gloves

I procured all of the ingredients from internet retailers except the wood and charcoal ash which our neighbors were generous enough to donate to the project in exchange for a chance to taste the bounty of the experiment. We also had the sea salt and tea on hand.

Method

  1. Brew the tea. I used at least a cup of loose tea leaves for 8 cups of water (I did say strongly brewed, right?) Let the tea sit for at least an hour to get really strong. In the meantime, find a large, non-reactive vessel (like a plastic painter’s bucket or other very large and deep bowl) and put the salt, ashed and quicklime into the bowl. When the tea is done, add about 3 cups and stir well. Then strain the tea, preserving both the liquid and the solids and add the spent tea leaves to the mud mixture. If necessary, add more brewed tea until the mud is a thick, but not watery solution.
  2. Put on latex or other protective gloves. The mud is caustic and will cause skin discomfort.
  3. Place the first batch of eggs into the mud and coat them well. I let mine sit for about 15 minutes before moving on to the next step. Find a large, deep bowl and fill it with rice chaff. After the eggs have rested in the mud, take them up one at a time and make sure they are completely coated. I found that the mud was a bit sticky and almost serous and didn’t want to adhere to the surface of the shell. When the coating is more or less uniform, place the egg in the chaff. Wipe excess mud off of your gloves by scraping on the edge of the vessel holding the mud. Then take handfulls of chaff and cover the egg with it completely. Pick up the egg and put chaff on the reverse side if needed. Then lightly compress the egg in your hand to try to get the chaff to bond with the mud. Remember the egg is raw and don’t squeeze too hard. When the chaff fully coats the egg (add more chaff if necessary), set it on a plate and move onto the next egg.

When all of the intended eggs are coated with mud and chaff, clean up. I let my eggs sit overnight before burying them in soil and lime. I used soil from outside (not potting soil) to fill the crock to get some natural microorganisms in the mix. If you have a choice of soils around your yard, use one with a high clay content. Set crock in an out-of-the-way place outside and wait a few months. I placed my eggs in a decorative sort of crock and put the crock in the garden as an ornament. Water is crucial to the process and the crock needs to be open to the rain to get wet and dry in cycles.

The reaction that causes the preservation proceeds more rapidly in warmer weather than in colder weather, so I will be waiting the full 100 days before checking on the eggs. Then you can look forward to posts exploring the flavor of these, wonderful ancient delicacies. (Words and recipe by Laura Kelley; All Photos by Laura Kelley)

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34 thoughts on “Making 1000 Year Eggs

    1. lauramk Post author

      Hi Mike:

      Stay tuned and I’ll let you know. Look for the harvesting of the eggs post around mid-May sometime. I’ve had them in China a few times and like them. The aroma can be a bit off putting – very strong ammonia smell, but the flavor is strong and un egg-like. Savory, a bit creamy, almost like a “stinky cheese”.

      Reply
  1. deana sidney

    Goodness, you are a brave woman. How remarkable to make them..Can’t wait to see the result. I’ve never had them before. And you even know what the chemistry of the magic is. Bravo.

    Reply
    1. lauramk Post author

      Hi Deana:

      I have had it in mind to make them ever since I first tried them years ago. I’ve been researching and gathering info on them for years – and of course enjoying them whenever I can.
      Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
    1. lauramk Post author

      Hi Marisa:

      I take Chinese food origin stories with a drop of a hat. They are just stories, usually with no basis in anything resembling fact. For example, the story goes that tea was “discovered” when a leaf happened to float into an emperor’s cup of hot water. That ignores the fact that the Burmese were enjoying tea as both food and drink for centuries or millenia before the Chinese “discovered” it an began to mass produce it in great plantations in the south.

      That said, the story behind the eggs is that a Ming farmer in Hunan Province found duck eggs in a pool of lime water that had formed where he had mixed mortar for construction. He tried them and accidently discovered 1000-Year Eggs. This same man went about trial and error to replicate the process, and that is pretty much the traditional process that I used today. I wouldn’t put to much faith in that story. But that’s the best I have for now.

      Reply
    1. lauramk Post author

      Hi Mike:

      Welcome to Silk Road Gourmet!

      You asked the smae question as Marisa did. Please see my answer to here for your answer as well. . . Come back soon!

      Reply
  2. Miles

    Brilliant! I tried tea eggs a few years back, not a particular success but a good exercise nonetheless. Certainly a less thorough process than yours, Laura which no doubt explains a lot!

    Reply
    1. lauramk Post author

      Hi Miles:

      I like tea eggs made in very strong tea and allowed to sit for a long time so the tea really infuses into the egg and makes wonderful patterns throughout the substance of the egg. Try making the tea much stronger than you woudl drink or lettign them steep longer. . .that is if you want to try to make them again.

      Reply
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  4. xtrocious

    Actually, it’s “century eggs” so 100-year old year eggs :)

    We get them quite easily in Singapore so there’s no need to make our own but they taste wickedly good

    Suggested serving – mash them up with minced pork and steam them with eggs to make a pidan custard

    We also have another dish where we add pidan, salted egg and normal eggs to sauteed spinach – wicked as well :)

    Reply
    1. lauramk Post author

      Thanks for the suggestions. I have quite a few recipes and will probably post a few when the eggs are “cured”. I am leaning towards one of the pork recipes so I can call the post, “Green Eggs and Ham – Chinese Style” or something like that! Come back soon!

      Reply
  5. Ken Albala

    Very cool. Almost the same way I did it. Where did you find rice bran? I used bamboo leaves, which one time worked, the second definitely didn’t, and I have no idea why.

    Reply
    1. lauramk Post author

      Hi Ken:

      Still waiting for the outcome so I can write my, “Green Eggs and Ham” post with a 1000-year egg and pork stir fry! Hopefully they will turn out OK. As to the rice bran. I do a lot of shopping online since we are in a somewhat remote area and my time is extremely limited. I think it was someplace in the midwest US that shipped it to me. I just trolled around on the internet until I found it – a bit of a haul to find unprocessed bran, but it might have been a feed store for horses or other aggi animal types. Minimum order of 5 or 10 pounds.

      Actually, for you I checked the shipping label on the box and it is from Midwestsupplies.com – a homebrew and winemaking supplier in St. Louis.

      Reply
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  7. Maryrose Crook

    I am very interested in the 100 year old eggs….we spent 3 months in Beijing in 2008 and discovered them very late in the trip…we liked them a lot! have they been smelling ok so far?

    Reply
    1. lauramk Post author

      All is well with the smell. They are buried in soil in a large crock. No odor or anything unusual about them. I will harvest them later on this year – perhaps in the summer. Thanks for writing!

      Reply
  8. Tanya Easley

    Eagerly awaiting the results of this recipe! Have you tasted 1000 year eggs before so you will be able to compare?

    Reply
    1. lauramk Post author

      Hi Tanya:

      Will check on them later in the summer. In Uzbekistan now . . . And, yes I’ve had them before, so I know what to expect . . .

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Reply
  9. Cindy

    I’m about to start my own batch of eggs with a food grade NaOH + Salt solution and came across this page. Amazing! I guess I can still use the NaOH for making pretzels. How does one get wood ash and charcoal ash if living in the city? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. lauramk Post author

      Hi Cindy:

      I suggest buying a small portable grill and making the ash yourself or finding someone who already has one and using theirs. When I lived in NYC, people used to use them on balconies, legally or illegally. Water plays a big part in catalyzing the process, so make sure the eggs get moist after they are coated and dried. Good luck!

      Reply
  10. Helen

    What an exciting experiment.
    Century eggs taste great with pickled ginger (the kind served with sushi).

    Reply
    1. lauramk Post author

      Ginger slices and a preserved ginger were on the table as condiments the first time I tried them in Xian – delicious. At some point I am going to use them in a pork stir fry and write about it. The title of the post will be, “Green Eggs and Ham”.

      Glad you stopped by and commented.

      Reply
  11. Carla

    I’ve been following this for months. When will you try the eggs. It’s August now…almost September. I love these eggs and used to eat them many years ago when they were made in China Town in SF. You would find the in large earthenware crocks. Now they come from China and are not at all the same. Besides that, there have been scandals with contamination

    Reply
    1. lauramk Post author

      Hi Carla:

      The eggs have been taken in and by feel most of them turned out fine. There were only 2 that felt too loose to have been properly converted into 1000 year eggs The good ones have been washed and are sitting in the fridge for future use. I have pictures of the cleaning of the eggs and will post them soon, perhaps with a simple eggs with pickled ginger picture.

      The biggest reason for the delay was a leak that caused massive damage to the basement and first floor of our home. We had contractors in all of June and July to remediate the water damage and rebuild the rooms. Now that is taken care of, I can get back to some of the long-term projects, like the eggs.

      Stay tuned.

      Reply
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