Sunday, 6 August 2006

Yummy Duck Embyros

I am currently on holidays in the Philippines, and as you can see from this first shot, the place is beautiful. However, last night I had the chance to appreciate one of the oddest eating experiences in my life. Whilst I will write and record more serious travelling science topics in the near future, this is one semi-science, semi-social and all round curious topic that I had to cover.

I had been told that eating duck and chicken embryos, whilst still in their eggs, was something of a tradition, and surely one that I could not miss, having eaten many weird and wonderful things in my time, although never something quite this bizarre.

Balut is a fertilised duck egg with an almost fully developed embryo inside that is boiled and eaten in the shell. It is thought that balut is an aphrodisiac, and in many ways it reminded me of oysters, not least by the fact that the embryo had oyster consistency, and didn't really taste all that great.

Balut is high in protein, and all the other good things that ducks and eggs provide. It is also high in cartilage, which is good for osteo arthritis.

The Australian equivalent is probably the late night kebab, as they are sold by street vendors and often accompanied by the vast consumption of beer. Indeed, this is how I tackled the obstacle - on the back of the Philippine beer "Red Horse" which is San Miguel beer with gin added making a highly potent combination.

The eggs themselves are a combination of solids, liquids and gases - a veritable treasure trove of textures and flavours. I was a little too sheepish to sip the broth surrounding the embryo - I guess that it is the embryonic fluid. I tackled the yoke first, which tasted like normal boiled egg, just without all that nutritional value that was helping the embryo grow. This was followed then by a glass of Red Horse quickly consumed, and a glass of water, as the most confronting obstacle, the embryo, lay in wait. Thankfully, it slid down rather easily. I wouldn't say that I enjoyed eating the balut - indeed, if you wanted duck and egg, I think it would taste better to get yourself an unfertilised egg, and grown-up duck, and combine them in an omelette.

There is a science behind the production of balut. Fertilized duck eggs are kept warm in the sun and stored in baskets to retain their warmth. After 9 days, the eggs are held to a light to reveal the zygote inside. About 8 days later the balut are ready to be cooked.

So I'm glad that I can say this is one eating experience I have had, although I don't think I'll be back for more. I am told that it is much nicer if you don't dissect it, as I did, and just eat it all quickly washed down with San Miguel. That sounds about right. But I still can't quite get my head, or stomach, around the little bones and feathers that I had to spit out...


  1. That's disgusting, I've never seen anything so terrible.

    BTW, great photo of the driftwood.

  2. I find it really sad that you didn't like it, didn't enjoy it - yet chose to crow about it in this blog because you 'couldn't miss' the chance to try it. This is one of the cruellest ways to kill an animal - boiled alive. I am saddened a man of your intelligence felt the need to satisfy your curiosity with this so called delicacy

  3. As someone who has lived in the Philippines for a year, and arrived back in my home country of Australia less than a week ago, I can relate both to the disgust of your comment, and also the reasons for Marc trying it.

    I have grown up in a culture where vegetarianism is widely accepted and practised, and animals are viewed as primarily as companions, and secondarily as nutrition. Yet in the Philippines, animals are used primarily for nutrition, with entertainment featuring highly too. Vegetarianism is virtually unheard of outside Manila, and is virtually impossible, as all dishes come served with meat. Pork is a popular meat, and it is usual for the pig to be bleed to death, as the blood is saved for making soup. It is difficult to eat meat when you have this knowledge, but to remain healthy and be culturally sensitive to my hosts I chose to eat it.

    The consumption of "balut" is by no means the most barbaric of customs when it comes to animal welfare in the Philippines. The sport of cock-fighting (where birds have razors strapped to their legs and fight to their death) has a very large public following. There are many other ways that animals suffer: there is horse-fighting, dynamite fishing, the poaching of wild animals, and general habitat destruction.

    I can't say that I enjoyed eating balut either, but most of the Filipinos I spoke to were impressed that I stepped out of my comfort zone to try this traditional food.

    I agree that it is cruel to boil something alive, but would argue that most animals we eat in Australia have suffered much more than a duck embryo would.

    I would also add that the Filipinos are marvellous in their ability to consume all parts of the animal, so I believe that they are capable of feeding more mouths on fewer animals.

    So, I thank you for your concern, and encourage you to investigate other instances of animal mistreatment, because I can assure you that "balut" is the least of the animal kingdom's issues, in the Philippines and the rest of the world.

  4. "Balut" shouldn't be treated as a science experiment. Dissecting the egg could ruin your duck-embryo eating experience.