Text and Photo by Henrylito D. Tacio
“Whoever discovered balut stumbled onto the fact that food has changing excellences (taste, texture) as it evolves and develops. Thus, between the egg and the full-grown duck, there are stages that bear exploring-and eating. And the Filipinos have explored them and evolved the culture of balut.” – Doreen Fernandez in “The World of Balut”
Online food curator and guide Taste Atlas, in a new survey, ranked balut as the worst egg dish in the world. The delicacy gets a 2.7 grade. In comparison, tortang talong was voted as the best egg dish in the world getting a 4.7 grade.
Balut is an egg that has been fertilized and contains a nearly-developed embryo. Generally, the egg is boiled and eaten directly from the shell, in the manner that burned and unfertilized eggs are eaten around the world.
Balut might be deplorable to most foreigners, but for Filipinos, it is one of the country’s most treasured delicacies. They relish this delicacy popularized by a small town in Pateros, Rizal.
Generally, balut is eaten as a snack and not a formal food. Its status in the country is summed up in these words: “Balut is popular in the Philippines as hotdogs in the United States.”
Even in the United States, balut is popular in areas where Filipinos abound. One scribe wrote: “Wherever there are Filipinos, one can usually find balut. In California and Hawaii, businesses cater specifically to balut eaters. It is also easy to make balut in homes, where it is then sold to friends and co-workers. From Alaska to Rome, wherever Filipinos migrate for work, balut may be found.”
At one time, The New York Times ran a short story on the Filipinos’ ongoing relationship with balut, describing it as a “national passion.”
In Western countries, balut is a “shocking” topic of some television shows because of its taboo nature. In two episodes of Survivor: Palau and two episodes of Survivor: China, separate challenges featured attempts to eat the fertilized egg.
Similarly, Fear Factor frequently used balut as a means of disgusting contestants. The Ultimate Fighter: Team Nogueira vs. Team Mir also included balut eaten by several contestants after its introduction by a Filipino-American fighter Phillipe Nover.
Named after the Filipino term which means “wrapped,” balut has been touted as an aphrodisiac as it boosts libido. It is common on street drinking sessions and just chatting with friends late at night. Generally, balut is being sold at nightfall when the street lights are on until early morning by vendors in baskets covered with thick foams and cloths to keep them warm.
The eggs used for balut come from ducks and not from chicken, as some people think. Although it ranks second only to chicken for egg and meat production, duck is also an important sub-sector of the Philippine poultry industry. It provides employment and income-generating opportunities for Filipinos, particularly those in the rural and marginal areas.
Among the avian species, ducks are considered the most adaptable because they thrive well on almost all kinds of environmental conditions. They need simple, less expensive, and non-elaborate housing and rearing facilities.
Ducks can be fed a variety of foods, such as rice, cassava, copra, corn and fruits; they have the natural tendency of foraging on green legumes, algae, aquatic weeds, fungi, snails, earthworms, maggots, and insects, which reduce feed cost. They can also be used to control golden apple snails, which serve as pests to rice plants in some parts of the country.
And, since they live longer than chickens, farmers can already make a profit in the second year of laying. Another advantage is the longer interval required for the replacement of stock.
For balut production, the recommended type of duck is the Mallard. Studies on the laying performance of Mallard duck from several locations in the country revealed wide variability in egg production.
A study done by Dr. Angel L. Lambio of the Institute of Animal Science at the University of the Philippines at Los Baños showed that, on average, egg production of Mallard ducks varied from 48 percent to 67.5 percent of the laying ducks.
Making balut is native to the Philippines. A similar preparation is known in China as maodan (literally “feathered egg”), and Chinese traders and migrants are said to have brought the idea of eating fertilized duck eggs back from the Philippines.
Generally, balut is always served while still warm. It is eaten with a pinch of salt, though some balut-eaters prefer chili and vinegar to complement their egg. The egg is savored for its balance of texture and flavor; the broth surrounding the embryo is sipped from the egg before the shell is peeled, and the yolk and young chick inside can be eaten. All of the contents of the egg are consumed.
“This food is the defining factor of all exotic foods in the country,” one foreigner commented. “It has made the Philippines unique from all of the countries in the world. Hopefully, in the future, the world will be ready for it and that the Philippines will make it an international phenomenon.”
Recently, balut has entered higher cuisine in the Philippines by being served as appetizers in restaurants: cooked adobo style, fried in omelets, or even used as filling in baked pastries.
Studies show that balut is indeed boosts one’s energy since it contains 12.6 grams of protein, 181 calories, good sources of Vitamin B1 and B2, minerals, niacin, beta carotene, and other supplements.
Aside from the Philippines, balut is also popular in Vietnam where it is called hot vit lon. Fertilized duck eggs are also familiar in the food customs of Cambodians, Chinese, Laotians, and Thai.