Updated date:

Of Wonders and Oddities: Balut, A Grotesque Allure for Foodies

Darius is a former high school literary and feature writer with a Bachelor of Science degree in Information and Communications Technology.

Balut

Balut

Balut: An Oxymoronic Cuisine

Eggs have been a staple food for over hundreds, if not thousands, of years prior to the numerous and exuberant recipes we now have today to eat and enjoy. But eggs, just like milk and fish and any kind of food, has one particular problem (that they all commonly share): they spoil. We know that we possibly can't stop most of today's food spoilage unless quirky scientists and food experts have solved the problem, but when there's a will there's always a way.

Raw eggs can take up to three to five weeks until it begins to spoil, but only when they are properly refrigerated. So, humans got creative and invented ways throughout human history to preserve and extend the shelf life of eggs.

Balut, or balot, is a fertilized duck egg embryo boiled and consumed from the shell.

And yes, you read that correctly.

Balut is a common street food around Southeast Asia, and usually popular in the Philippines and in Vietnam. In my country, it is preferably served warm to touch by buying it from local street vendors riding bicycles during dusk to nighttime. It is dipped in vinegar, most commonly prepared and blended by the vendors themselves, with a dash of salt. It can be eaten by hand, as it would normally be sizeable enough to be bite-sized, or with any utensil if you want to have it "gourmet style."

Mallard ducks.

Mallard ducks.

A Brief Eggy History of Balut

It has been noted that consumption of fertilized eggs have been around since the Chinese developed the method of it. It not only made the eggs more suitable to be patronized by many "Asian palletes," it also extended the shelf life of duck eggs from spoilage even before the discovery and invention of refrigeration.

In the Philippines, it is said that the process of incubating eggs was brought and taught by the Chinese during 16th century. Around 17th century, balut was then introduced to the country and soon began to assimilate in the country's traditional cultures. It is also said that balut were once food of higher class, the cuisine that only the rich and blue-blood can eat and afford. Mallard ducks were pretty much abundant in the Philippines during that time, as well as their eggs. They are highly preferred other than meat-type ducks for egg production. They are also adaptive in almost all kinds of environmental conditions, varying feeding practices, and immune to common bird diseases.

As time goes, balut descended to the common folks for them to enjoy it as well. Vendors would often ride bicycles carrying a basket filled with warm balut inside alongside different varieties of street food, like chicharon, penoy, and prawn/fish crackers. Balut is also sold in malls and stores, as well as making its way internationally, typically as "one of those exotic foods you have to try but will not try again" contents in the internet or a nostalgic visit of home by buying them in Asian markets, restaurants, and stores.

balut-egg

What Does Balut Look, Smell, and Taste Like?

Balut, on the outside, looks like the typical, normal eggs you buy at your local grocery shops. On the inside, for the "uncultured swines" and the uncommon, Balut can be very unappetizing to look at that the second you lay eye on it, you suddenly felt that urge to discard it from the grips of your hands. The inside also depends on balut you have bought, as some may innocently contain just the fertilized duck egg white and yolk and some may horrifyingly contain a whole, almost developed, baby duckling boiled to be eaten.

When you buy and eat balut, the gods tosses a coin, maybe two coins, or three, or four, while you hold your breath and await what "wonders" may unfold beneath the shells of it.

It smells can be pungent at times, but just like the food's taste, it's an acquired smell that you can get used to. It is one those foods out there that you somehow wish that doesn't exist but it did anyway.

Despite its seemingly and subjectively awful appearance, it tastes just like a normal cooked egg boiled in stock. But of course, the taste depends on the balut itself for there can be a huge spectrum of taste your tongue may encounter in eating one. It can be flavorful and savory at best, or may taste like uncooked boiled chicken. It can also taste meaty and pudding-like, or as creamy and silky smooth bliss like custard.

There's really no definitive description on how it tastes since it varies from person to person and from how it was prepared. But the one thing for sure about it is that it takes a brave soul to be sacrificed to try one out, especially if you're eating eat for the first time.

Nevertheless, balut is very high on calcium, protein, calories, and cholesterol. Eating one or two a week is the advised and eating it in moderation must be strongly followed. Of course, you can also decide to not just eat it at all, but if you like a hefty challenge embodied in a medium-sized exotic food then take the pleasure, pray in heavens, and enjoy.

An example of how balut, alongside nuts, is sold on the streets of the Philippines. Photo from CNN.

An example of how balut, alongside nuts, is sold on the streets of the Philippines. Photo from CNN.

How Do You Prepare and Eat Balut?

Balut comes from the word itself that means the process of making it by "wrapping" or covering the eggs inside bags during incubation. It takes 16 to 21 days to fully incubate a balut, and "hatching" a perfect and authentic one largely depends on the eggs and the processes involved.

Traditionally, fertilized eggs are heated on the sun or buried in sand and is stored in baskets to retain their warmth. A drastic change in temperature, being too hot or too cot, will kill the embryo inside while it is still developing while also ensuring that they are only heated on a period of time to prevent excess embryo growth inside the egg. The production of balut depends of the maturation cycles of the egg where different temperatures are needed to make sure of and to accentuate the specifics of egg and embryo specifics.

Balut making and processes also differ and depends on the country and industry making it. Eating one is pretty much straightforward. You have to tap it on a hard surface, breaking a small portion to uncover it and remove its shell. You can either drink the balut stock from the egg itself or have it served alongside spices, such as vinegar, salt, and coriander.

Once all of the balut stock is either drained or have been drank, you can peel off the rest of the shells until you reach the egg's middle section. Most of the inside of the balut is pretty much saying "Hi" to you right now, awaiting to be eaten. You can also have served in a bowl if you want to eat it at the comfort of your home.

balut-egg

Cracking the Eggshells of Cultural Impacts and Controversies

You might be wondering right now if someone or somebody around the world is condoning the exotic delicacy.

And, you are kind of right.

Balut is controversial to the regions of religion, animal welfare, and health. Balut is prohibited in some religious groups and sects, saying that eating it desecrates religious texts and practices. Animal welfare groups are also concerned if whether boiling a still-developing animal embryo in an egg is either ethically acceptable or not found in legislations relating to euthanasia and treatment of animals. Some also have gone far as to sign petitions to ban the food itself. Since balut is high in cholesterol, people with problems involving increasing cholesterol may attain cardiovascular diseases. It is also labelled as a "Hazardous Food" in Canada and strictly implements to obtain the product to safe and well-known producers.

Despite its backlash, and despite the slowing of its industry, it's still enjoyed by most who patronized it from then and there. It became the Philippines' "national street food" as well as winning a Guinness World of Records title. It is also used in various entertainment mediums where people get to try it first. It is also served, mostly authentically, in Asian restaurants, stores, and markets.

Balut can be also seen in printed magazines and cook books, featuring its creating process and the culture that surrounds it. It can also be seen in various international television and game shows and where balut is often served as either a challenge for the players or a delicacy to try and make.

And though the health benefits may be good for you, you must also have to ensure the rule of thumb to never have more than you should. And as long as it is alive and well in the market, people are still going to form a love-hate relationship with the delicacy with a grotesque allure.

References

  • Hui-Shung, C, Dagaas C. The Philippine duck industry: issues and research needs. University of New England. 2004.
  • Fernandez DG. Balut to barbecue: Philippine street food. Budhi. 2002;2:329–40.
  • Sanceda N, Ueda K, Ibenez J, Suzuki E, Kasai M, Hatae K. Some fine aspects boiled and historical fertilized background and of “balut” and ‘penoy’, boiled incubated fertilized and unfertilized duck eggs. J Cookery Sci Japan. 2007;40:231–8.
  • Arthur JA. A study of the consumer market for duck and quail egg products: the case of Chinese Canadians in Vancouver. British Columbia: The University of British Columbia; 2013.
  • Libay, JL, Fiedler, LA, Bruggers, RL. Feed losses to European tree sparrows (Passer montanus) at duck farms in the Philippines. 1983
  • Romjali, E.N.; Lambio, A.L.; Luis, E.S.; Roxas, N.P.; Barion, A.A. (2014). "Fertility and hatchability of eggs on mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos L.) of different plumage pattern under different feeding regimes". JITV. 19 (3): 674–678.
  • Magat, Margaret (January 1, 2002). "Balut: "Fertilized Duck Eggs and Their Role in Filipino Culture"". Western Folklore. 61 (1): 63–96. doi:10.2307/1500289. JSTOR 1500289.
  • https://www.mashed.com/158543/the-untold-truth-of-balut/

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Darius Razzle Paciente

Comments

asereht1970 from Philippines on October 16, 2020:

Nice article. Very informative and well written. I also eat Balut from time to time but I eat the yolk and the egg white. I don't eat the duck embryo.