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Balut. Want a boiled egg with a difference? This is it. At 14 to 21 days into incubation, fertilised duck eggs are boiled up to serve to hungry Filipinos.
This is one of the holy grails of strange food. The thing that amazed me most was that these are not a rare, impossible to find delicacy. In the Philippines you can find balut on every street corner. Hawkers countrywide have a seemingly endless supply of these pre-birth snacks. As soon as the sun sets it’s time to head out and get your fill of foetus egg…
History of Balut Podcast
Disclaimer: This is one of our Strange Food episodes, so we are going to be talking about some foods that some listeners may find a bit gross. Vegetarians and vegans certainly won’t be excited to here about this. Expect graphic language relating to animal parts. You have been warned!
- The weird and wonderful world of Balut – Fertilized boiled eggs
- The history of Balut
- Plus we eat it in the Philippines. But, is it more nutritious than a regular boiled egg?
We Eat Balut in The Philippines VIDEO
Watch the video to see the grossness unfold, then read on below to find out our verdict on Balut. (UNEDITED, PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT FROM ABOVE PODCAST EPISODE IS ALSO BELOW)
When it comes to strange food, Balut might be one of the most famous. Not only does it look really gross when you open up the egg but most westerners gawk at the idea of eating an unborn baby!
If you are a lover of boiled eggs, then don’t despair. Beyond the psychology of it all, balut does not taste that dissimilar from a regular egg, with a few feathers and crunchy bones/beak thrown in.
I’m not a big fan of boiled eggs – yes, I’ll eat insects and various unknown pig organs happily, but give me a boiled egg and I’ll pass it off to someone else! – so, I’m not going to be eating balut again.
As for the ethics… If you eat meat, what is the difference between murdering a chicken or boiling up an unconscious, undeveloped foetus?
(UNEDITED, PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT FROM ABOVE PODCAST EPISODE IS BELOW)
What Is Balut?
Balut also occasionally spelled “balot”) is a developing bird embryo (usually a duck, but sometimes chicken) that is boiled in it’s shell and then eaten out of the shell the shell. It is most popular in the philippines.
So, if the disclaimer at the start of the episode wasn’t enough, and you think eating a partially developed little duck out of the shell turns your stomach, this may not be the episode for you. But, it’s an essential cultural food that is hugely popular in the Philippines… So it’s definitely a dish worth talking about.
The Tagalog (tuh·gaa·log) and Malay word balot means “wrapped”. The length of incubation before the egg is cooked is a matter of local preference, but generally ranges between 14 and 21 days. Many agree that 18 days balut, known as “balut sa puti” are the best… But apparently, ladies prefer the 16 day ones that have slightly less crunch bone bits and look a little less like an actual bird. Older than 18 days are normally considered too developed and are not as popular.
Balut is consumed in high amounts within countries in Southeast Asia, particularly Philippines of course but also popular in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and China
It’s been Considered the national street food of the Philippines. In fact one writer stated:
“Balut is as popular in Manila as hotdogs are in New York” Maness, 1950
And today, it’s not just a street food of the Philippines. Migrant filipinos all over the world have brought the dish with them. And you can definitely find it in the USA amongst the filipino community.
That said, the Balut industry has seen decline over the years and production is much lower than it was in the 70’s and 80s.
The taste of the egg depends on the breed of duck.
They raise ducks specifically for Meat and ones for eggs in the Philippines
The egg ducks are more popular.
Mallard duck locally known as Pateros itik is commonly
used by duck farmers in the Philippines for egg production.
Duck eggs that are not properly developed after nine to twelve days of incubation are sold as “penoy”, which look, smell and taste similar to a regular hardboiled egg. They actually hold a light up to the egg, it was a candle in the old days – and the candle test confirms if there is a developing embryo at this point, or fertilisation didn’t take.
After incubation, the egg white hardens and the yolk softens, After boiling, the top part of the egg yolk becomes watery. I can describe the taste as strange slightly funky or off egg. But we’ll get into the full discussion of trying Balut later on.
Mamatong Balut – from 14 to 16 days has the embryo floating at the top of the egg.
Balut sa puti – 17 to 18 days old, where the embryo has become wrapped in a whitish membrane. This is the most popular type we mentioned before. This is what we tries.
Origin Of Balut
Though today Balut is most famously Filipino, and a few sources think it originated there… Most sources actually agree that it was first eaten, or at least inspired by China. They like eating some weird stuff, lets be honest. They are right at the top of the eat anything and everything pyramid!
So, in china something very similar to Balut is known in called máodàn (Chinese; Pinyin: mdodân ; literally “Feathered egg”), and Chinese traders and migrants are said to have brought the custom of eating fertilized duck eggs to the Philippines.
But that’s about as far as the consensus goes. Some sources say fertilized eggs are far less popular in China than other types like eggs preserved in tea, or century eggs. I can’t seem to find any early records of Maodan in china at all, while century eggs on the other hand have archaeological evidence dating at least to 700 BC – though they keep better, as a preserved food product, of course.
Some say Chinese traders brought balut prior to the Spanish arriving to the Philippines in the 16th century, others claim it was later, some as late as 1885. And what’s most annoying about all these claims is that most of them all lead to a dead end of conjecture without a specific piece of evidence to back them up.
Until recently, Pateros, which is actually part of southeast of Manila, The capital of the Philippines, and Pateros is the smallest of the seventeen cities and municipalities comprising Metropolitan Manila. Was known as the capital of Balut – supposedly making the best in the Philippines. But pollution led to a decline in the industry, as well as duck farmer insisting on maintaining traditional production methods, rather than moving to modern technology.
And it’s this area of Pateros, which was once a small inland port receiving Malay, Chinese, Swedish, and Indian vessels, that is said to have derived it’s name from the word Pato, meaning duck in Spanish, but also specifically referring to Mallard duck in the local Filipino language – Tagalog (tuh·gaa·log).
Before 1770, Pateros was only a barrio of the larger area Pasig until the Spanish Governor-General of the Philippines issued a decree making Pateros an independent municipality.
The Pasig river is the main river connecting the area to the south china sea, and hence mainland china. And a smaller river connects the Pasig to Pateros.
In The early 19th-century U.S. diplomat Edmund Roberts used Duck-town, another name for Pateros, stating that he “never before saw so many ducks together” in one place. Referring to the land along the river in Pateros where the ducks were reared.
How long had duck production been going on there? And how long had balut been the major product of that duck industry. No one seems to know for sure.
One conjecture is that as the Spanish invaders who occupied the Philippines mentioned things like fermented shrimp paste, and boiled turtle eggs, in documents as early as 1521, it seems strange they never mentioned Balut, if it was a popular product from a place literally named after the word for Duck. Of course, it seems too much of a coincidence that the Filipino word for mallard duck is the same as the spanish word for duck… And that Filipino language has another word for duck in general – itik. Was Pateros so named prior to the word pato entering the language? probably not.
Early Spanish chronicler Pigafetta, mentions a tribal chief enjoying boiled turtle eggs. Another chronicler, Antonio de Morga, mentions his disgust that they eat rotting fermented shrimp and fish – something similar to shrimp paste and fish sauce perhaps.
So, it’s the omission of discussion that Balut was a thing when the Spanish first arrived, that suggests, if it was present, it was not yet popular enough to get on the radar of the Spanish.
None of this is conclusive to me. But, my personal conjecture from all this is that balut and the growth in duck production probably went hand in hand during the 1700’s or shortly before in the port area around modern day Pateros, and this grew into a popular industry.
Sadly, city pollution caused massive decline for the duck industry in Pateros during the 70s and 80s and today, most Balut in that are supplied from neighboring provinces in the Calabarzon region. The tourism department is trying to find ways to re-develop the industry, or interest in the region as culturally important in the history of the food and the country.
Since the late 80’s Pateros has been hosting the Balut sa Puti festival every spring.
So, production may have moved, but culture and history of Balut is still celebrated.
How To Cook Balut & Is it more nutritional than regular eggs?
Balut should be boiled or steamed for 20 to 30 minutes. It should always be eaten hot.
Vendors sell cooked “balut” out of buckets of sand, used to retain warmth, and are accompanied
by small packets of salt.
The cooked product has 4 parts – The cooked yolk, the bato which is the Albumen, what is left of the egg white that has gone rock hard and is not eaten.
Can we just call it egg white? I mean last episode we had to deal with endosperm as the white of wheat grains. Now Albumen? Why are people coming up with such gross sounding names for these things… He says talking about eating duck feotus…
The embryo and the liquid part. The liquid might not be present if it is a chicken egg, rather than duck
Balut is considered to be a street food, and as with many street foods, balut should be eaten as soon as it is prepared. Sources suggest that at most, the shelf-life of a cooked balut is one day, but can be kept in the refrigerator for up to one week
Why has it been so popular?
It’s cheap, for a start.
Its considered a super food by Filipinos – with more vitamins, minerals (like calcium) and amino acids than a regular boiled egg.
There is 6x the Vitamin D, 2x the Vitamin A, and 2x the cholesterol in duck eggs vs chicken eggs. In fact they have more cholesterol in one egg than the RDA for the average person.
A very detailed study in Japan in 1995 by Norlita Sanceda and others, looked at the changes in amounts of amino acids as the duck egg developed, and found that some amino acids like Taurine were much higher at 18 days than at zero days or in an unfertilized egg.
Another reason Balut has had such popularity
Balut is highly regarded as an aphrodisiac, “or at least have invigorating powers,”. Filipino men would gather around in the evenings to pair balut with beer. And while there’s no scientific evidence of its virility, men believed they had more stamina after consuming balut.
In fact, the belief is so strong that it’s estimated that the ratio of male to female consumers has men eating about 75% of the supply of balut, and women only 25%. But This could also be because it’s icky food. Are men more willing to eat gross stuff?
Speaking of less desirable animal parts that are often sold as street food. We definitely had some organ stews when we were in the philippines, and they weren’t necessarily bad at all, just not things we may be used to eating in the western world.
But to soften the blow of odd looking street food, Filipinos have come up with some fun nicknames for dishes…
Chicken Feet are called Adidas, after the shoes.
Pigs ears are called “Walkmans” – for our younger listeners, walkmans were like slow iphones that could only play music from the “ancient pre history of 1989
Chicken intestines are called IUD – I’m not really sure how an IUD is supposed to make you think of a food as more palatable?
And chicken wings, which surely don’t need any naming to make them seem more palatable… Are Called PAL – which is the name of the Philippines national airline. I like that one.