Last year, Cardi B tweeted that she planned to get her hands on Irvins' salted egg potato chips, an iconic Singaporean snack that’s sold stateside at Asian markets such as HMart and 99 Ranch.
After sampling the brand’s offerings, the rapper said she especially loved Irvins’ salted egg salmon skin, delighting fans of the East and Southeast Asian ingredient, which is made from duck egg yolk and has a salty, buttery umami flavor that people say is incredibly addictive.
Found in everything from yogurt, boba drinks and ice cream to bao, burgers and croissants, the versatile salted egg is having a major moment in the U.S. Experts credit this to an increase in popularity of Asian specialty goods, the power of social media and online stores making beloved Asian brands easily accessible to Americans.
“We were extremely surprised to be so hugely popular and to grow such a loyal fan following as we have seen in the past two years,” Irvin Gunawan, founder of Singapore-based Irvins, told NBC Asian America.
“This is unexpected because the U.S. does not have the traditions of eating bak chang, or mooncake, or porridge with salted egg like we do in Asia, so it’s a completely new thing; it’s almost like trying to sell country music to metropolitan Singapore. And yet it has been embraced in a big way.”
Since launching in the U.S. in 2020, Irvins has doubled its sales each year. The global company is expanding across Costco in Texas next month, making their products available in 78 stores across four regions. Bags of Irvins are known to sell out as soon as they hit the sales floor.
Gunawan, who’s been called the “rock star of salted egg chips,” said Americans are curious to try new flavors and cuisine and that more people are demanding premium and better quality food, even when it comes to snacks.
Irvins’ in-house chefs salt-brine duck egg yolk for 30 days before steaming and tossing them with Southeast Asian ingredients such as birdseye chili peppers and aromatic curry leaves made in small batches.
Weee!, the Asian and Hispanic online grocer, currently stocks around 50 salted egg products and said Irvins spicy salted egg salmon skin is up seven times in sales from Q4 2021 to Q1 2022. The retailer said the Fragrance brand’s salted egg cassava chips are up four times in sales from December 2021 compared to April 2022. Lay’s version of salted egg potato chips are also a popular seller.
While modern interpretations such as chips, salmon skin and Torani’s salted egg yolk syrup (named the brand’s 2022 flavor of the year) are newer, salted duck eggs were first mentioned in the Qimin Yaoshu, an ancient Chinese agricultural text that dates back to the fifth century. Due to a lack of refrigeration, eggs were brined in a salt solution to prolong their shelf lives.
Food writer and influencer Fiona Chandra, who was raised in Indonesia, said she grew up eating salted egg with congee and that it’s been used as a sauce or gravy for crab and other Asian dishes for many years. “Salted egg has a lot of flavor and a little goes a long way — you just need one egg,” she said.
Chandra said when kids decorate eggs for Easter at school in Indonesia, they usually use salted eggs since they are known to keep at room temperature for extended periods of time.
While growing up in the Philippines, Katrina Camarillo ate salted egg with tomatoes, onions, rice and fish or meat, as well as on the Filipino rice cake dishes bibingka and puto. Compared to chicken eggs, salted duck eggs are deep orange in color, more flavorful and have a grainy texture.
“I think it’s appealing because it’s so hard to describe the taste. We all love savory, salty chips, so the salted egg has that element, but it also has that buttery taste and adds a layer of texture and extra umani with each bite,” she said.
Camarillo is the co-founder of Sarap Now, a Filipino and Asian groceries online shop that stocks cooked salted duck eggs and a variety of salted egg chips from popular brands such as Irvins, Stips Chips and The Golden Duck Co.
While Camarillo is happy to see a childhood staple of hers being enjoyed by a larger audience, she also sees the growing popularity of food trends from Asia as a way to fight the rise in anti-Asian racism and violence that’s been pervasive throughout the pandemic.
“The more we serve our food, the more they love our food, the more they’ll get to know us,” she said. “Food is a really good way to bring people together.”