Sussing out the best salted egg yolk snacks

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Chinese New Year is about a month away, so it is time to gear up for the festive snack attack.

This year, besides the usual Chinese New Year goodies of pineapple tarts and bak kwa, expect salted egg yolk fish skin and potato chips to be a mainstay on the tidbit platter.

Snack manufacturers, restaurants and home businesses are rolling out these salty and slightly spicy treats, which have become popular with locals and tourists.

For example, Irvins Salted Egg, which is a Singapore-based food company specialising in salted egg snacks, sees queues even before its outlets open, and can sell out its products in an hour, depending on the location.

The salted egg – typically made from duck eggs – is not a new ingredient. It is usually boiled, halved and eaten with Teochew porridge and the whole salted egg yolk is a key component in mooncakes. Zi char eateries offer squid, pork ribs and crab tossed in a sauce made from salted egg yolks, curry leaves and chilli padi.

Then, the yolk infiltrated the menus of hipster bistros, used to fill croissants, churned into ice cream and drizzled over waffles and toast.

Fried fish skin and potato chips also got the salted egg treatment and, for some reason, the marriage of the savoury flavour of egg caked onto a crispy base had a certain munchie X factor.

The fish skin and potato chips outlasted the other fads, making them the most popular salted egg snacks on the market.

There is wide variety to these simple munchies. There are halal versions, spicy versions, fish skins made from dory or salmon, potato chips that are thick cut and crinkle cut. (Unfortunately, there is no low-calorie version.)

As more brands enter the competition, The Sunday Times decided to conduct a blind tasting of the salted egg yolk potato chips and fish skin to see which ones stand out.

In total, 17 brands – 13 for fish skin and 10 for potato chips – were tasted by four judges. The panel comprised The Straits Times Life editor Tan Hsueh Yun, 50; food critic Wong Ah Yoke, 56; Aitor Jeronimo Orive, 35, head chef of the one-Michelin-starred Iggy’s at Hilton Singapore; and chef-owner Kenjiro Hashida, 38, of Hashida Sushi Singapore at Mandarin Gallery. The judges could give a maximum of 10 points each for texture and taste.

It was not the popular brands that came up tops. The top spot for the fish skin went to East Ocean Teochew Restaurant at Ngee Ann City, while new snack brand Aunty Esther’s ranked No. 1 for the potato chips.

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  • What the judges tried
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  • WHAT THE JUDGES TRIED

    1. Aunty Esther’s,
    Level B2 Takashimaya Department Store, Food Hall; Level B2 Takashimaya Square, 391A Orchard Road

    2. Blue-Duck
    Available at Giant supermarkets, go to giant.sg for the full list of outlets

    5. East Ocean Teochew Restaurant
    05-08 Ngee Ann City, 391A Orchard Road

    8. Irvins Salted Egg,
    Outlets including 02-K3 Westgate, B1-59 Raffles Xchange and L1-K3 Orchardgateway

    10. Pacific Crispy Fish Skin
    People’s Garden, 40 Lorong 1 Realty Park; Caltex and SPC petrol stations, Sheng Siong supermarkets and online at Qoo10

    11. Penang Kitchen
    01-05 Coronation Arcade, 5 Coronation Road; tel: 6466-6193

    13. The Golden Duck Co
    Go to thegoldenduck.co

    15. Say What?! Thick Cut Salted Egg Potato Chips
    All Tip Top outlets and Sticky Wings at 02-05 Westgate, 3 Gateway Drive

    17. Yolky
    Order online at redmart.com/ marketplace (search for “yolky chips”)

Irvins Salted Egg – run by three Indonesia-born brothers – held its own at No. 2 on each list. Home-grown business Yolkalicious came in third for potato chips, while Pacific Crispy Fish Skin – by seafood wholesaler Causeway Pacific Business – ranked No. 3 for fish skin.

The judges found that the majority of the chips and fish skin were too sweet and lacked enough salted egg yolk flavour.

Overall, Ms Tan was “more impressed” with the standard of potato chips compared with the fish skin.

Chef Orive, who has used salted egg yolks and made macaron fillings with them, said he would consider making his version for the restaurant.

Many brands say they use fresh salted egg yolks for the snack, and The Sunday Times understands that the fish skin used is generally from the dory – more accurately called basa or pangasius (a type of catfish) – or salmon.

Irvins Salted Egg now has salted egg tapioca chips, while Aunty Esther’s has plans for a salted egg yolk sauce.

As chef-owner Pang Kok Keong of Antoinette patisserie puts it: “The salted egg yolk trend will continue evolving.”

He was part of the craze for salted egg yolk croissants in 2016, and his version won The Sunday Times’ blind tasting back then.

He has created everything from snowskin mooncakes with salted egg lava to salted egg chocolate truffle. His latest offering for Chinese New Year is spiced salted egg cookies. “I love using them in sweet creations because they add a pleasant, savoury note,” he says.

Championing salted egg yolk fish skin as a Singapore-made product is chef Daniel Tay, founder of the Old Seng Choong brand, which is known for its traditional butter cakes and pineapple tarts, as well as yam and carrot cake.

He is working with a local manufacturer to produce his own range of salted egg fish skin, which launches on Thursday at the new Old Seng Choong store at Central in Clarke Quay, as well as at its booth at Takashimaya Square’s Chinese New Year fair. It is priced at $10.80 for a 100g packet.

On launching the product now, he says: “I don’t think the market is saturated. It’s like when one brand starts selling smartphones and everyone else starts selling them too. Then everyone needs a smartphone and it is no longer a novelty. When people talk about Singapore, I hope that they talk about salted egg yolk fish skin. The market is not just Singapore – it’s the world.”

As the golden ingredient cements its presence in the food scene here, even food and beverage brand Knorr launched its Golden Salted Egg Powder in August last year to cater to home cooks.

Ms Corrine Chong, brand manager of Unilever Singapore, which owns Knorr, says: “We use quality egg yolks and drying technology to preserve their flavour, colour and aroma.

One 270g packet has a yield of about 23 salted egg yolks. The pack can be used to cook about seven dishes (35g a dish), with each serving about five portions. It is available at major supermarkets islandwide at $9.90 a pack.

However, before you whip up a salted egg feast or crack open a packet, note that salted egg yolk is high in sodium and cholesterol.

Ms Bibi Chia, principal dietitian of Raffles Diabetes and Endocrine Centre, says: “I would not suggest eating more than two or three a week and not more than one a day.”

Each salted egg has about 180mg of cholesterol and 700mg of sodium. The daily recommended intake for cholesterol is less than 300mg, while that for sodium is less than 2,000mg.

She cautions that it is “easy to overeat” salted egg snacks (100g of the fish skin has about 52g of fat, 23g of saturated fat and 630mg of sodium).

Housewife Sarah Koh, 45, a fan of salted egg yolk fish skin, says: “I have queued for the fish skin from Irvins so that I can give it to my Singaporean friends living overseas. It is quite an indulgence, so I would just buy the small packets for myself.

“I’ve also tried brands such as Tiny Red Dot and The Golden Duck Co. I’ve tried to make it before, but it’s way too much work, so I’m more than happy to pay for it.”

*Follow Eunice Quek on Twitter @STEuniceQ

Salted egg yolk fish skin

1. East Ocean Teochew Restaurant

Price: $19 for 200g

Where: 05-08 Ngee Ann City, 391A Orchard Road, open: 11.30am to 3pm (weekdays), 10am to 3pm (weekends and public holidays), 6 to 11pm daily

Info: Call 6235-9088 or go to www.eastocean.com.sg

Score: 67 out of 80

Verdict: A clear winner for the fish skin category as all the judges noted the “well-balanced” flavour of the salted egg yolk. After tasting it, chef Aitor Jeronimo Orive said: “It is not too sweet. This one is way ahead of the rest and in another league. You can really taste the salted egg yolk.”

The Straits Times Life editor Tan Hsueh Yun added that the fish skin has “just the right amount of spice”.

2. Irvins Salted Egg

Price: $8 for 105g, $16 for 230g

Where: Outlets include 02-K3 Westgate, B1-59 Raffles Xchange and L1-K3 Orchardgateway, various opening hours, but best to go by 10am

Info: irvinsaltedegg.com

Score: 541/2 out of 80

Verdict: The salted egg yolk flavour also shone through with Irvins Salted Egg Fish Skin, although Ms Tan would prefer it to be less sweet and more spicy. She said: “I can see the curry leaves and chilli, but the flavours need to come through more.”

Food critic Wong Ah Yoke said: “This tastes good, but I wish that the skin was thinner.”

3. Pacific Crispy Fish Skin

Price: $6.95 or $7 for 60g (price varies depending on location)

Where: People’s Garden, 40 Lorong 1 Realty Park (open 9am to 4pm, Mondays to Saturdays, closed on Sundays); Caltex and SPC petrol stations, Sheng Siong supermarkets and online at Qoo10

Info: www.causewaypacific.com Score: 53 out of 80

Verdict: All four judges found this fish skin to be too sweet. Mr Wong said: “The sweetness hits you first, then the other flavours come out.”

Chef Kenjiro Hashida found the chip “slightly spicy”, but moreish.

Ms Tan said: “While it is too sweet, it still has a good salted egg yolk flavour. A little less sugar and it will be perfect.”

Salted egg yolk potato chips

1. Aunty Esther’s

Price: $8.80 for a 100g packet (promotion price: $8), $16.80 for a 200g jar (promotion price: $16)

Where: Until Tuesday at Level B2 Takashimaya Department Store, Food Hall; Thursday to Feb 14 at Level B2 Takashimaya Square (Chinese New Year Festive Celebrations fair)

Info: Call 6222-4779 or order online at auntyesthers.com

Score: 621/2 out of 80

Verdict: This was the unanimous winner. Chefs Hashida and Orive noted the “good balance” of flavours. Ms Tan said: “You definitely get the salted egg yolk flavour, and there’s just the right amount of salt.” Mr Wong Ah Yoke and chef Orive agreed that there could be more flavour from the curry leaves. Also, the packet had a small ball of salted egg yolk inside – a major plus point.

2. Irvins Salted Egg

Price: $8 for 105g, $16 for 230g

Where: Outlets include 02-K3 Westgate, B1-59 Raffles Xchange and L1-K3 Orchardgateway, various opening hours, but best to go by 10am

Info: irvinsaltedegg.com

Score: 60 out of 80

Verdict: A close runner-up, the judges all applauded the chips’ texture.

Mr Wong added: “I like the texture, but the salted egg yolk flavour is a bit mild.”

3. Yolkalicious

Price: $4.50 for a 65g packet

Where: Order online at www.yolkalicious.com and go to www.facebook.com/yolkalicious for updates on pre-orders. Order two days in advance.

Score: 52 out of 80

Verdict: Compared with the rest of the chips, this one looks like a “normal” chip, pointed out chef Orive, as it does not seem to have the orange tinge of the salted egg yolk on many other chips. However, the judges were pleasantly surprised that the salted egg yolk flavour was still prominent. Mr Wong said: “There is a good balance of sweet and spicy flavours, although it is not very crispy. You can taste the egg yolk, as well as the potato.”

Chef Hashida found it a tad spicy, but added that “the chips make you want to eat more”.

Snacks with a personal touch

Brands that have names attached to them lend a personal touch, especially when it comes to food.

So, it is good to know that the “Aunty Esther” behind the brand is not a fictitious character, but a soft-spoken 57-year-old who is no stranger to the food and beverage scene.

Ms Esther Chew – who has baking experience and honed her cooking skills when her father used to run a seafood restaurant – has also worked with other companies that manufacture salted egg yolk snacks.

She is the production director for snack company Foodstuff Unlimited Co, which started in November last year.

It specialises in salted egg yolk potato crisps and fish skin, which is selling at at a pop-up booth at Takashimaya Department Store’s Food Hall under the Aunty Esther’s brand.

Consumers can also buy the products online. Its products are also sold in other Asian markets, including Hong Kong, Shanghai, Thailand and the Philippines.

Sales of the chips and skin are already hitting more than 1,000 packets a day. She has a salted egg yolk sauce in the pipeline as well.

For the Chinese New Year period, Aunty Esther’s is selling a selection of goodies, including kueh bangkit ($13), pineapple tarts ($18) and love letters ($18).

Ms Chew says: “There is huge demand for the product and the market is still in its infancy. It is a niche product which is gaining attention from locals and tourists.

“Singaporeans have discerning palates and they will be able to tell the difference between a premium product and run-off-the-mill ones.”

Lack of halal options led her to make her own


Ms Nini Yunizah Yusuff of Yolkalicious started out by selling salted egg yolk chips to mostly family and friends. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

The only home business to make it into the top ranks with the big manufacturers and popular brands, Muslim-owned brand Yolkalicious has been in operation since June 2016.

Some may say the craze is overrated and even dying out, but salted eggs are very much a part of the Asian food scene. I believe that the ingredient will always have its appeal.

YOLKALICIOUS OWNER NINI YUNIZAH YUSUFF

Owner Nini Yunizah Yusuff, 33, started her business during the Hari Raya season and sold mainly to her family and friends.

On her venture, the former administrative assistant and receptionist says: “Yolkalicious began from a simple desire to eat salted egg yolk chips one night, but the commercial brands available then were not halal-certified.

“So, I made it myself, posted it on social media and word got around from there.”

She uses halal ingredients, and the flavour of the fresh salted egg yolks and spicy kick of the chilli padi stood out in the taste test.

Production is small and she sells about 50 packets a week.

Self-collection or delivery is available and she plans to collaborate with stores to stock her chips.

Ms Nini – who picked up her cooking skills from her mother, who runs a hawker stall in Ghim Moh selling traditional Malay dishes and kueh – has also introduced salted egg yolk sauce ($10), which can be used as a dip, coating sauce or cooking paste.

On the salted egg yolk trend, the mother of a 31/2-year-old girl says: “Some may say the craze is overrated and even dying out, but salted eggs are very much a part of the Asian food scene. I believe that the ingredient will always have its appeal.”