January 29, 2022

Chinese Iron Eggs 鐵蛋

Iron Eggs,egg, chinese,taiwan,鐵蛋,recipe,quail eggs,soy sauce

These unusual looking treats, called Iron Eggs 鐵蛋, are an interesting snack that originates from Taiwan.  One can sometimes find them in convenience stores in HK; that's where we first discovered them, these tiny dark brown almost black eggs vacuum packed into see through packages.  Liking to try weird foods (almost black eggs!) we bought a pack and in the first delectable tiny bite became instant iron fans.

The legendary Iron Egg started at a Taiwan food stall that sold normal soy sauce eggs.  One day due to bad weather there was a serious lack of customers.  So the soy cooked eggs were thrown back into the pot and recooked again, still no customers, recooked again, still no customers, and so on.  Eventually the eggs shrank and became dark and dense.  However they tasted really, really good!  So good that customers began to request them and thus began the legend of the iron egg.  (Don’t you just love that name!  And the iron only refers to the color and not the texture BTW.)

This is an exceptionally tasty treat that goes great as a party snack or drinking snack or just a whatever snack.  The making is simple but it takes quite a bit of time.  The final result, these Chinese Iron Eggs 鐵蛋, are tiny eggs with a chewy outer shell and a lush yolk, all throughly infused with the aromatics that it has been cooked in repeatedly.  A burst of intense spiced eggy goodness in a perfect little package, Iron Eggs are just the most delicious little snack!

Iron Eggs,egg, chinese,taiwan,鐵蛋,recipe,quail eggs,soy sauce

Traditionally quail eggs 鵪鶉蛋 are used to make this snack.  Quail eggs are about a quarter of the size of regular eggs.  Regular chicken eggs can also be used but I think the size of these tiny quail eggs makes them the perfectly proportionally delectable all in one snack.  

We bought these quail eggs fresh at our local grocery store.  I think outside of Asia you can probably find them in Chinese or asian grocery stores as well.  If you can’t find the fresh ones you could also use canned quail eggs (which are already peeled!)

Tip: Make more!  I only cooked 20 eggs but I sure wish that I had bought as least three times as much.  My family ate them up almost as quickly as I made 'em, they were that delicious.  Make more and get the most out of the long cooking process!  I’ve adjusted the recipe to triple the batch I made ;)

Iron Eggs,egg, chinese,taiwan,鐵蛋,recipe,quail eggs,soy sauce

First step is to boil the quail eggs.  There are two things to remember here.  The first is that the heat should be kept to a low simmer so to prevent any of the delicate eggs breaking.  I like to put my eggs in with room temp water and heat from there.  Once the water boils turn heat down to a low simmer.  It takes longer but lets me gently cook my eggs.  

The other thing to remember is to splash a bit of vinegar in the cooking water.  This will totally help when it comes to peeling the shells of the egg.  Not sure why but this tip totally works.

Iron Eggs,egg, chinese,taiwan,鐵蛋,recipe,quail eggs,soy sauce

The next step is to cool the eggs in a cold water bath before peeling.  The cool water helps to shrink the egg away from its shell, again helping the peeling process.  Be gentle when peeling!  I ended up eating a couple of eggs at this stage that I mashed up with my klutzy fingers.  

Before peeling gently roll the egg on the table until all sides and top and bottom are well cracked.  Poke through at the fat end of egg, there’s a bit of extra air space there, and then spiral peel your way down the egg.

Iron Eggs,egg, chinese,taiwan,鐵蛋,recipe,quail eggs,soy sauce

Once your eggs are peeled it’s time for their long aromatic immersion  bath!  The spices are up to you of course and while we used a traditional set of spices you can omit or add as you like. More spices will offer more flavor layers.

The traditional spices for a Chinese soy marination brew are shown in the above photo from the top clockwise: licorice root 甘草, black cardomom pod 黑荳蔻, star anise 八角, fennel seeds, whole cloves, sichuan peppercorns 花椒  and cinnamon stick.  The big crystal in the middle is Chinese rock sugar 冰糖 which is used to provide a mellow clear sweetness.  

For a twist to the marinade you can add a tea bag or two which adds a lovely background layer of fragrant tea.  We did this, using our favorite mellow and earthy Chinese black fermented tea, Pu-erh tea 普洱茶.  

Or if you like spicy you could throw in a chili or two to heat things up!

Iron Eggs,egg, chinese,taiwan,鐵蛋,recipe,quail eggs,soy sauce

Here are the eggs after the first 20 min simmer in the aromatic soy tea spice brew.  The eggs are removed from the marinating sauce and left to air dry and cool completely before the cycle is repeated.  If you want to speed up the process I recommend using a fan to blow them dry.

Iron Eggs,egg, chinese,taiwan,鐵蛋,recipe,quail eggs,soy sauce

Here are the eggs after the 8th cycle of simmer/drying.  See how dark they are!  You can repeat the cooking cycle as much as you like or have the patience time for.  Know that your eggs will get darker, chewier, more aromatic the more you repeat.  

Some stop at six cycle, some go as far as eleven.  It’s up to you.  Just know the deliciousness and chewiness factor goes up the more you repeat!

And that’s it, your dark, chewy and intensely flavored from outside to inside iron eggs are ready for you and your family and friends to snack on.  Believe me when I say that everyone in the vicinity will be waiting on hand to try out these delectable morsels right away after the hours of sniffing the tantalizing aroma of the soy tea spice simmer drifting through the house.  

If you’re smart and made ALOT you’ll be pleased to find that even after everyone else is happily satisfied you will still have enough left to enjoy some iron eggs yourself!  Iron eggs are a bit of a pain to make but super delish and everyone will love you for it!

Iron Eggs,egg, chinese,taiwan,鐵蛋,recipe,quail eggs,soy sauce
Chinese Iron Eggs Recipe 鐵蛋
(makes 60 eggs)  Prep time: 5 mins   Cook Time:  2 hr 50 mins



*Since rock sugar comes in wildly various irregular lump sizes just add smallish lumps first, taste test when melted and add more if needed.  After a while you'll get a feel for using rock sugar.

 Add 2 inches of water and vinegar  to pot.  Add in eggs gently.  Heat the water over med high heat until it starts to boil, then immediately turn down heat to a ssimmer.  Let simmer for 7 mins .  Remove eggs from pot and rinse with cold water water for a minute until the eggs are cooled down.  Peel the egg shells.

Pour out water in pot until just enough left to comfortably cover the eggs.  Place peeled eggs in.  Add light and dark soy, rock sugar, licorice root, cardomom, star anise, fennel, cloves, sichuan peppercorns, cinnamon stick, tea bags and chili (if using).  

Heat until boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook covered for 20 mins.  Remove eggs from soy marinade and let air dry until completely cooled and dry.  You can use a fan to speed up the process.  Repeat this simmering then cooling/drying cycle 8 times or until the eggs have turned a dark brown almost black hue.  

Remove from pot and serve hot or cold.  You can serve them as whole eggs or slice in half to make a pretty presentation.

Keep eggs covered in fridge for up to 7 days.  You can also reserve the cooking marinade as a 'master marinade' in the fridge to reuse for your next batch of iron eggs, just top off the marinade and you'll find that the flavor will develop the more you reuse the master.  Enjoy!



  1. Hello Ellen, another tasty tip from you after the Rojo Brillante kaki;) or at least you gave me their name! I bought a couple seeing them next to the checkout at the chinese grocery shop I most often go to, without knowing or asking what they were. I figured as I enjoy 1000 year eggs I would like these too. And indeed they are yummy! And your recipe is tempting.

  2. I'm so glad that you enjoyed them! 😊 ~ellen