Filipinos’ half-hatched duck egg delicacy becomes toxic when grilled? What experts say on trending street food

A Facebook post on the new version of ‘balut’ has been shared over 31,000 times after it was posted


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Photo courtesy: RIRI Bites / Facebook
Photo courtesy: RIRI Bites / Facebook

Published: Tue 4 Apr 2023, 12:48 PM

Last updated: Tue 4 Apr 2023, 12:49 PM

A popular Filipino delicacy called balut — a boiled, half-hatched duck egg — is safe to eat when grilled, food safety experts say, contrary to a misleading social media claim that it generates a toxic gas.

The experts told AFP that the grilled version of the delicacy is safe to consume as the amount of hydrogen sulphide produced during the grilling process is not enough to cause food poisoning.

The misleading claim was shared more than 31,000 times after it was posted on Facebook on March 24.

The post says "overcooked eggs are toxic and can suffocate and poison people" because they generate hydrogen sulphide.

It includes a screenshot of an exchange discussing grilled balut, an increasingly popular take on a Filipino street food that consists of boiled, half-hatched duck eggs.

Traditionally, balut is eaten straight from its shell after it is boiled.

"Dangerous. When the shell of any egg burned, it becomes toxic," one user wrote in the thread of the screenshot.

"Hydrogen sulphide. That's why a hard-boiled egg is also dangerous when boiled too much," another replied.

Hydrogen sulphide is a toxic and flammable gas known for having a strong odour that is reminiscent of rotten eggs. The substance can be toxic for humans if they are exposed to higher concentrations.

Similar posts shared on Facebook sparked comments from social media users who appeared to believe the claim. One user said: "Thank you for sharing this information", and another wrote; "This is a must-read for everyone."

But the claim is misleading, according to food safety experts.


'Not enough to pose health risks'

Justin Godfred Peralta, assistant professor at the University of the Philippines' Department of Food Science and Nutrition, said the claim circulating on social media was "misleading" as the quantity of hydrogen sulphide present in the grilled duck egg was not enough to pose health risks to those consuming it.

"The claim failed to account for the quantity of hydrogen sulphide generated by the process as well as the nature of the preparation of the grilled balut. The grilled balut is as safe to consume as regular balut," Peralta told AFP on March 30.

"In order for balut to be the cause of hydrogen sulphide poisoning, you would be eating way too much at a single sitting," he said, explaining that the quantity of the chemical needed to generate the rotten egg smell is 0.02 to 0.2 ppm, a value that is theoretically lower for balut and also much lower compared to the permissible limit for exposure.

Peralta, however, warned against "excessive consumption of balut" because it was "likely to be associated with other ailments associated with cardiovascular illnesses".

Lotis Escobin Mopera, associate professor at the University of the Philippines Los Baños' Institute of Food Science and Technology, said there was "no cause for alarm" when consuming grilled balut, but cautioned against possible sanitary risks if a vendor mishandles the eggs.

Mopera told AFP on March 31 that "the concentration of hydrogen sulphide is not considered toxic at that level."

"But we must be concerned about other (sanitary) hazards", she said. "It depends on the cooking or handling procedure of the vendor; if it is enough to eliminate potential hazards both chemical or biological in nature."


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