If you could imagine eating a bird’s nest, you would probably gag from trying to stomach down some leaves, twigs, and whatever the bird fancied at the time. But in some Asian cultures, that bird’s nest is not a collection of twigs and leaves; it’s a delicacy made of the solidified saliva of species of swiftlets, a bird native to Southeast Asia.
For reference on what a bird’s nest looks like, see these pictures.
To understand where the idea of eating a bird’s nest came from, some may reference this famous Chinese myth. During the Ming Dynasty (1386-1644 AD), famed Chinese admiral Zheng He was supposedly shipwrecked, and his sailors had found these nests while scavenging for food. He ordered his sailors to clean and cook them, and his sailors were so full of vitality that he reported his findings to the emperor. From there emerged the tales of bird’s nests medicinal properties, garnering a reputation for boosting immune systems and helping one maintain youth.
Digging into its reputation, edible bird’s nests have recently been studied by researchers to verify its supposed medicinal properties. In 2006, researchers from Japan concluded that edible bird’s nests are a “safe and valid natural source for the prevention of influenza [flu] viruses,” and researchers from Malaysia and California later confirmed upon in 2017.
However, this rare ingredient is not easily acquired; the swiftlets that make these naturally live in dark caves, making their harvest difficult and often dangerous. However, companies such as Yến Sào Xẻo Lá in Ho Chi Minh City have built their own aviaries to meet the demand, as conventional harvesting in the wild has depleted the supply of edible bird’s nests.
Edible bird’s nests today are most commonly used in bird’s nest soups, though they can be used in other dishes such as congee or added to desserts such as egg tarts.
For reference on dishes with bird’s nest, see Steamy Kitchen’s Chinese Bird’s Nest Soup.
Due to a combination of both high demand and limited supply, bird’s nest have continued to be a luxury food in the modern era. According to Insider, bird’s nests typically retail for $3,500 per kilogram depending on quality, comparable to CaviarPassion’s prices of various types of caviar available for purchase online ranging from about 1,656€ ($1,600) to 4.300€ ($4,200). This is why it’s often nicknamed “the Caviar of the East.” A box of bird’s nest as featured on our website retails for $474.99 for 100 grams, and its quality is guaranteed by Yến Sào Xẻo Lá.