If you’ve been browsing the Asian supermarket snack aisles of late, you’ve probably noticed an interesting snack flavor on the shelves: salted egg yolk. You’ll find it as a flavoring in savory snacks like potato chips, crackers, and even salmon skin (more on that later). It took me a while before I eventually picked up any salted-egg-yolk-flavored snacks, and now I’m just annoyed I never tried them sooner. Yes, they’re all delicious. What makes this flavor profile so special?
At first I assumed salted egg yolk flavoring, typically from duck eggs, would taste the way a hard boiled egg smells: slightly sulfuric and, well, eggy. But thankfully, that’s not the case. Salted egg yolk snacks have a buttery richness to them, one that’s slightly custardy and grows stronger as they dissolve away in your mouth. Not a trace of sulfur.
And of course, it is salted egg yolk we’re talking about, so it’s a highly savory flavor that lends itself to all manner of snacks. But it’s also a flavor that some people like adding to sweet drinks for contrast; drink syrup manufacturer Torani (you’ve had these in your coffee before) even carries a salted egg yolk flavor, which it describes as “featuring a sweet custard top-note and a surprising umami finish.” Yup, for that sweet-and-savory pairing that’s almost always a winning combination.
The use of salted egg yolks is common in East Asian and Southeast Asian cuisine, often paired with rice or used as seasoning in a range of dishes. The Michelin Guide suggests that this particular use of salted duck egg yolks began in China, and their earliest recorded mention is in the Qimin Yaoshu (Essential Techniques for the Peasantry), a text that dates back to the fifth century. This is truly some old-school cooking. Ancient, even.
As mentioned, savory snacks like potato chips are a great vehicle for salted egg yolk flavoring, but for my money, crispy salmon skin is the absolute best. If the crackling skin is your favorite part of a pan-fried salmon fillet, then you absolutely have to pick up Irvins Salted Egg Salmon Skin chips. They’re very expensive, however: a three-pack of 3.7-oz. bags will run you $30 on Irvins’ website. A single bag at my local Korean grocery store is $10.99 and well worth the price.
Despite the sticker shock, these salmon skin chips are some of the best snacks I’ve ever eaten. I know some of you are still shaking your heads at that cost, but I promise, they’re amazing, and a relatively unique product in the greater U.S. snacking landscape.
Each salmon skin chip (which really is just puffed-up salmon skin) is oily and absolutely coated in salted egg yolk powder. That results in layer upon layer of decadent flavor, and since they’re so rich, you’ll find yourself savoring each chip in the bag rather than scarfing down the whole damn thing in minutes. (Tochi’s salted egg yolk salmon chips are also an admirable stab at the form, though I don’t quite like the chip texture as much.)
It’s not a fad; it’s not even really a novelty flavor. Given the popularity of salted egg yolk products across Asia, it’s safe to say that North America is just finally taking notice of a good thing, and you should too.