Balut in my hand, photo David Hammond

Last week, I visited a wild life farm in Tennessee. This preserve, Tennessee Safari Park, is run by a cool cowboy named Claude Conley, who drove us around to visit with a lot of animals including camels, various types of deer and pig, buffalo, ostriches and emu…lots of emu.

Pointing to one of the emu eggs, Conley explained, “Emu will grow about ten inches in the first few weeks of their lives.”

Recently it occurred to me that emu probably grow quickly because their eggs are rich, the yolk much larger than the white. I knew this from experience having eaten an emu egg just a few weeks before at my friend Lou Bank’s house. Bank had secured an emu egg at the Madison Farmer’s Market, and he prepared it sous vide (which involves cooking it in a relatively low temperature water bath for upwards of 24 hours).

When he cracked it open, Bank exclaimed, “It’s disgusting.” Most of us at the table agreed, but it’d take more than that to keep me from trying a new food.

The emu egg had a thin sheath of egg white over the bulbous and bright yellow yolk, which was about the size of league ball cut in half. The yolk was extraordinarily creamy, custardy, and rich, full of calories and, I’m guessing, nutrients to help fuel the emu’s initial growth spurt.

Most of us eat hen’s eggs all the time. We’re accustomed to that flavor profile. Eating eggs from other birds – ducks, geese and emu – is a different experience and maybe, at first, a little odd and off-putting.

But nothing – and I mean nothing – I’ve ever eaten compares to the oddness of eating balut, popular in the Philippines and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. These bar snacks are actually fertilized duck eggs. I purchased the raw, fertilized duck eggs at a Vietnamese market on Argyle Street. They were cooked by my friend and Filipina Sharon Bautista. You eat balut by cracking the top, sucking out the liquor (actually the best part: shrimpy), removing the hard white membrane and then eating, essentially, a duck fetus, bones, proto-feathers, head to tail, everything. It was edible, but by no means a great flavor.

Would I eat balut again? Why would I? I did it once.

If you want to see pictures of both cooked emu and fertilized duck eggs, click through the gallery above.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...