The internet is a hotbed of food trends, but this one may leave you scratching your head. Salted egg yolks are very much a trend globally — from America to Europe — but it’s actually a food tradition with origins in Asia that can be traced back centuries.
“Salt-cured eggs are basically eggs that are submerged in a salt mixture,” explains Joyce Chiang, the 32-year-old Taiwanese-Canadian food blogger behind the Monkey Eats World blog and Instagram account. “During this process, the egg yolk dries up and solidifies to have the texture of a hard cheese: Salted egg yolk is very popular in Asian cuisine.”
Chiang grew up eating salted egg yolks regularly, and counts pastries, sticky rice and Taiwanese pineapple cake as the most common ways she enjoyed its sweet-meets-savory qualities. Her favorite version is now liu sha bao, a molten custard salted egg bun, typically eaten in bite-sized form at a dim sum meal. “It’s a flavor that reminds me of my childhood,” she says.
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But what exactly does salt-cured egg yolk taste like?
“Imagine a salty egg with an intensified savory flavor,” Chiang tells Yahoo Life. “It tastes very rich and creamy — some people think it tastes a bit like cheese.” On a recent outing, Chiang even tried a salted egg-topped soft-shell crab.
Given its versatility to be used in both savory and sweet items, salted egg yolk is commonly used in Asian cultures to make pastries, cookies, garlic butter and even salted egg yolk potato chips.
They’re even used on top of fries: In 2019, McDonald’s restaurants in Singapore introduced salted egg yolk loaded fries. But the dish was far from authentic — since the sauce has more of a creamy mayo base, it left many unappeased and downright confused.
The kickback on social media has been fervent, as one user described it as “bleh” while another proclaimed them to be “still edible if you don’t call them salted egg yolk fries.”
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The trend has spread to other international fast-food conglomerates, specifically those in Southeast Asia. KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) in the Philippines serves salted egg yolk chicken, while at Pizza Hut in Brunei there’s a salted egg yolk pizza. Craving a frosty on your next visit to Wendy’s? In Malaysia, you can pair it with a salted egg yolk chicken burger.
Salted egg yolks continue to gain momentum across the globe, not just in Asia. Internationally, the umami-boosting qualities of the yolk have been used to add a layer of flavor to salad and avocado toast, grated over pastas and even added to coffee. Yes, the trend has not been spared even from your favorite caffeinated beverage.
The intense flavors have inspired one of the newest syrups from Torani, the company known for inventive flavors, syrups and sauces that can be added to coffees and desserts, from Italian eggnog to huckleberry. With their cultural curiosity and the company’s desire to seek out eye-catching flavors, salted egg yolk syrup was a natural fit for their 2022 Flavor of the Year.
“Our 2022 Flavor of the Year work uncovered the rising trend of culinary tourism and found the perfect embodiment of the trend in salted egg yolk,” Andrea Ramirez, consumer and customer market insight manager for Torani, tells Yahoo Life. “Consumers have longed for new and fun experiences after being stuck at home for two years, turning to globally-inspired cuisines to quench their thirst for adventure.”
But what does Torani’s salty eggy syrup creation taste like?
“The taste is a combination of sweet and savory that has a certain craveability to it,” Ramirez explains. “It features a sweet custard top note and a surprising umami finish with a deep orange hue.”
“Salted egg yolk as a flavor sounds surprising, yet its taste is completely accessible and has an inherent familiarity,” she adds. “Most people have an idea about what eggs and custard taste like, and they probably have their favorite preparations of each.”
When cracking into the syrup at home, she suggests using it in cold brew coffee, espresso drinks, milkshakes and boba teas.
Admittedly, I’d never tried salted egg yolks prior to seeing them on social media, but I am a fan of Hong Kong-style egg tarts, custard-filled pastry shells that aren’t too far off in their flavor profile. I tried Torani’s new syrup in an at-home latte and found it to be surprisingly delicious and very approachable — even for the non-adventurous flavor palate. As someone who prefers black coffee, I enjoyed how the savoriness of the syrup balanced out the sweetness caused by using it with almond milk. The color of the syrup is also spot on compared to the look of salted egg yolks.
Those who want to jump in on the trend, can even try their hand at making salted egg yolks at home. Of course, I had to give it a try. For research.
The process to quick-cure egg yolks is surprisingly simple, almost too easy not to try, requiring only egg yolks, salt, a sealed container and time (around a week to be exact).
Recipes differ online, with some adding sugar to the curing mix, but I stuck to salt since the majority of recipe creators did, too. Once carefully separating my yolks, I placed them in a sealable container lined with a heavy pour of salt. After dropping the yolks into the salt — spaced apart — I gently poured more salt on top until they were covered, like a fine coating of snow.
I left the sealed container in my fridge for 12 days — although many do far shorter, and even longer. Once taking them out of the mixture, I carefully washed the salt off each yolk with water and placed them in the oven on a lightly greased baking sheet: It’s suggested to further dry the yolks out for 90 minutes by baking them at 150 F. Because my oven only went as low as 170 F, I improvised and kept them in the oven for an hour before allowing them to cool off on the counter for an additional hour.
So how did they taste?
I was first taken aback by their brightly-hued orange color and overall appearance — the yolks looked like colorful cellophane-wrapped mini Babybel cheese rounds, not like a food in its natural state. Upon the first bite, I was hit with intense richness — the flavor was almost buttery with notes of salt on the back end that lingered. The texture was much like a soft cheese. I can honestly see why people grate salted egg yolk on their pasta and soup, but I didn’t get a cheesy taste in terms of flavor. I also didn’t get egg flavor from the taste: curing the yolks in salt created a flavor all its own.
Would I go through this somewhat lengthy process again? Probably not. But I will continue to use the Torani syrup and keep an eye out for those molten custard salted egg buns Chiang described the next time the dim sum cart rolls by.
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