Demand for a uniquely Australian product is booming, with emu eggs featuring in some of the nation’s top restaurants — and just one of them can feed a family.
The emerald-coloured eggs are in hot demand as they are high in protein and the size of eight chicken eggs.
“[We’ve sold] probably about 3,000 in almost three months,” Queensland emu farmer Stephan Schmidt said.
This winter laying season is the first time he has taken the produce to the public.
“I was shocked, I did not believe that was going to happen, when my wife said let’s sell the eggs at in shopping centres, I said ‘Who is going to buy them’.”
“We sold 500 in the first week here at Runaway Bay [on the Gold Coast].”
Thousands of emu eggs have been scrambled, fried or turned into milkshakes this winter.
His clients are mainly older retirees, but some younger body builders are starting to test out the eggs.
“Well if they were doing what I was doing, they wouldn’t need their shakes, I was drinking them raw,” Mr Schmidt said.
“I have them as a milkshake, just raw, with a bit of chocolate milk and honey, made a smoothie out of it.”
South Australian famer Bev Tuner said she was getting requests from top restaurants in Melbourne.
“We can’t keep up supply,” she said.
“We would like to get more emus; the demand is definitely there.
“Television programs are asking for the eggs, we’ve had requests from Survivor and My Kitchen Rules.”
The hunt for an elusive emerald egg
Female emus lay one egg every three days during the winter months, but according to Stephan Schmidt, an emu farmer with 20 years’ experience, less than half are fertile.
“Normally the smaller eggs are infertile, we pick out the bigger eggs for the incubator to get the best chicks and often these smaller ones you wouldn’t put them in an incubator anyway,” he said.
In the wild, a male emu will sit on a nest for 56 days, but on the farm eggs are sorted for incubation or consumption, and it is the job of farmhand Stephan Pite to ‘move on’ a male emu.
“If he is still sitting on them, you come up behind him and put your hands underneath and just lift up a little bit and he will just jump and move along,” he said.
“Sometimes they will play around a bit and try to big and scary, but if you just put your hand up and be taller than them, they will run off.”
He has been pecked before, but said he is not intimidated by the world’s third largest bird.
“It doesn’t hurt, it’s only a little nip,” he said.
To scramble, shake or make into marshmallow
Scenic Rim chef Ash Martin had been trying to get his hands on fresh emu eggs for two years.
“People will bend over backwards to try and get native Australian ingredients on their menus and emu eggs are one of those things,” he said.
“In the last five or six years it has been a really big thing.
“Not just the emu egg, but the emu dish itself. When we first started here five years ago, we’d barely sell an emu, we’d barely sell kangaroo … but, kangaroo and emu eggs are now selling better than steak and things like that.”
Emu egg whites are turned into a lemon-myrtle marshmallow at Homage Restaurant. (ABC News: Lucy Murray)
The head chef from Homage restaurant cures the yolks for 6 months to grate and season meat.
The whites he turns into lemon-myrtle marshmallow.
“The egg to white ratio is about 50/50, so there is a lot of yolk in there, you get more bang for your buck,” Mr Martin said.
“The flavour is a lot different, it’s a lot richer, it’s a lot more … you can taste the difference.
“We find that if you make a sponge out of emu egg you get this really vibrant, rich, orange sponge, and it is a lot richer flavour as well.”
Famer Stephan Schmidt said because the emus were farmed and feed grain, the eggs taste very similar to chicken eggs.
“Don’t worry about comparing it to a duck egg, you compare it to a chook egg, except that it is a free-range emu, we feed them similar to a chook,” he said.
“I think it’s a little bit different to a wild egg, a wild emu would have a different flavour, but the farmed emu is very much like a chook egg, a free-range chook egg.”
What are the health benefits?
Accredited dietician Maria Packard said she has never tried an emu egg, but hen eggs are very healthy.
“I think with eggs they are a really healthy protein source and full of lots of nutrients including vitamins, minerals and healthy fats as well,” she said.
“So certainly, we can include egg everyday as part of a wide variety of healthy protein sources.”
But, as one emu egg is the equivalent to eight chicken eggs, she said they were better shared.
“When we are looking at a normal serve size, we are looking at two large [hen] eggs as an equivalent serve size, so certainly the quantity is something that needs to be considered, when we are talking about healthy eating,” she said.
“So probably a good use of an emu egg would be trying to feed a larger proportion of people or using it in something like a frittata, rather than having it all in the one go.”
Emus only lay over the winter months, so supply is drying up as the season ends.