Is it the Chicken, the Egg, or the Music?

23 Feb

Here’s a story you don’t read every day: chickens in Hong Kong are laying eggs to the tune of the latest classical, jazz, rap and cantopop. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, there is a marked difference in the size of the egg yolk, compared to other eggs, but the jury is still out on any notable difference in taste.

Whether or not these chickens are producing better eggs, we hope you get as much of a kick out of this story as we did!

Is it the Chicken, the Egg, or the Music?

By Amy Ma, for the Wall Street Journal

This dish at Posto Pubblico, toad in a hole, is made with ‘music eggs.’

At a farm in Hong Kong’s New Territories, a group of 20,000 chickens listen to a mix of classical, jazz, rap and Cantopop (Cantonese pop music) daily.

Called “music eggs,” they hail from the Chung Hing Musical Farm and each one gets branded with a small oval sticker bearing a blue treble-clef insignia — the central curl of treble clef is decorated to look like the head of a rooster. But how does it stand up in a taste test?

From the day they hatch, the chicks at Chung Hing listen to what 35-year-old farmer Fong Chi-hung calls “age-appropriate” soundtracks: 15 days or younger listen to softer love songs; those 16 to 30 days old get faster-paced disco music. Once chickens exceed 30 days old, the music selection becomes much more flexible. Don’t be surprised to find rock hits from the Chinese band Beyond and pop songs from Cantonese girl group Twins.

Music eggs bearing their blue treble-clef insignia sticker

At 20 weeks old, chickens start to lay eggs and those hear a more eclectic mix of songs. Hi-fi stereo systems installed in the different corners of the coop are turned on from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.  to 6 p.m. — at club-like volume levels, so it’s hard to hold a conversation — with a break in between designated as nap time for the birds.

Farmers try all sorts of tricks to get their chickens to lay more and better eggs. Mr. Fong’s strategy is simple: Chickens are less stressed when there is a constant rhythm and melody drowning out other noise, especially during feeding time when workers enter the room; happier chickens eat more and make higher-quality eggs. He started his farm in 2003 and started applying his “music technique” in 2006. Since then, he reports that the mortality rate of his chickens has dropped by half.

But there’s a price for all this musicality and it’s…the price. At 3.75 Hong Kong dollars (about 50 U.S. cents) an egg, a music egg costs about nine times more than the 42 Hong Kong cents charged by a China-based supplier. They are available in limited quantities in certain markets in Hong Kong, but mostly just straight from the supplier.

The music egg, far left, has the bigger yolk

One restaurant in Hong Kong is willing to cough up the extra cost: At Italian restaurant Posto Pubblico, executive chef Joshua Chu decided five months ago to exclusively use “music eggs” in the kitchen. The owners of Posto Pubblico plan to open a new restaurant in April called Cantopop and it also will use only music eggs. To meet demand, Chung Hing Musical Farm — which now produces 500 to 600 eggs a day — plans to stock up on additional chickens.

“You can see the difference in the yolk, which is almost orange in color and twice as big as your standard supermarket egg,” says Mr. Chu. He states that his idea of the perfect egg is one with evenness in the egg whites, a higher ratio of yolk to white, and a flavor that isn’t too gamey.

The three eggs cooked sunny-side up. The music egg is at the top

The chef showed a sample of three eggs — a music egg, a locally produced egg and one from a China-based supplier — open in a bowl sitting side by side. Visually, the music-egg yolk was massive and more dark in color than the other two. “Imagine the difference it would make to an eggs Benedict,” says Mr. Chu.

When asked whether he believes it was the daily dose of rock music that did the trick, the chef shrugged his shoulders and laughed. “It’s possible.”

But then the ultimate test was done  – Mr. Chu cooked each egg sunny-side up and held a taste test. The verdict: It tasted like an ordinary egg, frankly, but its sizable yolk can make for a rich meal on its own.


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