By: Kathy Feng
When people in Asian countries consume edible bird’s nests, it isn’t the twigs and branches that we may have in mind. Edible bird’s nests, or yan wo, is an expensive delicacy made out of hardened and dried saliva of swiftlet birds in Southeast Asia. The birds themselves usually reside in caves, and only three species of swallow have edible bird’s nests. Bird’s nest can be served in congee, soup, and even eaten as a dessert. In fact, when bird’s nest is dissolved in water, the texture becomes gelatinous and it will commonly be incorporated into sweet or savory soups . Bird’s nest may possibly be the only “spit” that you would want in your soup!
The nests are widely known in Asian countries for their nutritional value. They contain amino acids, calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium. Perhaps the most popular component within the nests are the high amounts of glycoproteins that they contain. They are often incorporated into Chinese medicine and are said to enhance the immune system, promote healthy skin, cleanse the blood, fight colds, and contain many other medicinal properties [1,2].
Harvesting the swiftlets’ saliva is a laborious and dangerous job. This is why the cost of bird’s nest is very expensive, ranging from $30-$100 for a bowl of bird’s nest soup . Depending on the height of the cave, there are several ways that nests are collected off of the cave walls. If the ceiling is low, the workers will gather the nest by hand. If the ceiling of the cave is high, workers may suspend themselves from bamboo scaffolds to collect the nests . On top of the dangerous harvesting process, many nests are referred to “black” nests which are riddled with feathers and feces that need to be extensively cleaned. This process is very tedious and labor-intensive.
The price of bird’s nest may see a decline, however, due to the increase of farming. A typical “farm” is actually a large building, where the inside mimics the interior of a cave. They attract swiftlets to come through playing recordings of swiftlets’ songs. The creation of these farms has environmental benefits, as it reduces human disturbance in the traditional cave habitats of these birds . Still, due to such high demand of the bird’s nest, the swiftlet population may decline if skilled harvesters collect the nests before the hatchlings of the swiftlets have matured.
1. Bartlett, J. 2016. "Bird's Nest on Your Favorite Cocktail Menu — How It Got There." LaWeekly. N.p., Web.
2. Trinidad, E. 2013. “Waiter, There’s Spit in My Soup: A Review.” Devour the Blog: Cooking Channel’s Recipe and Food Blog. N.p., Web.
3. Adams, M. 2011. “One of the world’s most expensive foods is made from bird saliva.” Natural News. Web.
4. Chan, W., Lee, J.K. 2008. “Bird’s Nest: The Caviar of the East.” Flavor and Fortune. Web. Fall: 9-10, 26.
5. Twilley, N. 2011. “Factory Farming Bird’s Nests to Make More Soup.” The Daily Good. Web.