Filled with 'golden sand'? Diners dig in
THERE'S a new lifestyle drug in town and it goes by the code name of "golden sand", or as it's more popularly known - salted egg yolk.
All it takes to put you into a state of ecstasy is the sight of that golden, creamy liquid oozing out of a freshly baked
croissant or fluffy white bun.
Somewhere in Singapore, someone has a hand stuck inside a bag of potato chips coated with that illicit yellow powder, made more potent with boosters like milk powder, sugar and that other insidious additive - monosodium glutamate.
And in the same way that drugs come in varying forms of purity, so does salted egg yolk - you don't know if what you're eating comes from a real duck, or a powder made of "natural" flavours and permitted stabilisers.
It wasn't that long ago - maybe two years - that Singaporeans' relationship with salted egg yolk was still healthy.
We cooked with it; we enjoyed salted egg crab at zichar places; we ate it in traditional mooncakes; at most, we'd flit from one dim sum restaurant to another to find liu sha bao, or molten salted egg custard bun.
Then one day, something flicked the salty-sweet taste receptor switch in our collective brains. We wanted salted egg potato chips and fried fish skins. We lusted after molten salted egg croissants. We put salted egg sauce on everything from fries to McDonald's chicken burgers. The more we wanted, the more purveyors were happy to give it to us.
Jonathan Shen of The Golden Duck - maker of salted egg potato crisps and deep-fried fish skins - has been in the business since November and estimates he sells 5,000 packs of both a week, at $7 a bag.
Irvin Gunawan hit pay dirt when he gave up his zichar business and focused on his Irvin's "Dangerously Addictive" salted egg chips and fish skin, selling the plastic bottles (and resealable bags) at $16 each.
He made enough to move from his coffee shop to a store in VivoCity and open a central kitchen.
At Antoinette, chef-owner Pang Kok Keong rode the wave, introducing molten salted egg yolk croissants, and he's just one of many pastry chefs to do so.
The craze may have wound down a little "but salted egg croissants are still our bestseller - we sell over 100 pieces a day".
Pooja Vig, who runs The Nutrition Clinic, explained: "Look at how salted eggs were traditionally prepared and eaten - it was served in a simple congee where it can be a nourishing meal. The main concern is when the salted egg trend gets translated into everything from cakes to croissants and ready-made salted egg powder.
"When we move too far from tradition, we lose health benefits and start adding sugar and processed ingredients."
Not only that, "we're hardwired to crave salt", said Ms Vig. "It lights up the pleasure chemicals in our brains to make us keep eating it."
It did not take long for manufacturers to step in.
Knorr, for one, "noticed a creative trend to extend this flavour to new food formats", said Ng Seow Ling, managing director of Unilever Food Solutions (Singapore).
The company launched its salted egg powder in 2014 for commercial use.
All a chef needs to do is add water and fry it in margarine to get a salted egg sauce.
It doesn't mean that all chefs want to cash in on the trend.
There are those who use it because it works for their food. Chef Brehm grates the yolks to use as natural stabilisers in emulsions, or to add salty umami flavours to pasta dishes.
Luke Whearty of Operation Dagger cures egg yolks in sugar and rum to make the bar's signature cocktail.
But whichever way you like your egg yolks, the key is that the next time you reach for a salted egg crisp, you'll know exactly why you need it so much.
THE BUSINESS TIMES
Additional reporting by Rachel Loi
and David Yip