Bird's Nest, which many consider the pinnacle of luxurious tonics, has been an exquisite gift and delicacy since the ancient Chinese Dynasty. Derived from the Chinese word Yan-Wo, these delicate white-gold strands were integrated into modern day society by the Chinese royalty.
Table of Content:
- What is Bird's Nest?
- The Story behind Bird's Nest
- Where is Bird's Nest Produced?
- What does Bird's Nest taste like?
- Why do people eat Bird's Nest?
- Why is Bird's Nest so expensive?
What are the Types of Bird's Nest?
- House Bird's Nest vs. Cave Bird's Nest
- How should Bird's Nest be stored?
What is Bird's Nest?
Edible Bird's Nest is made up of interwoven strands of salivary laminae harvested exclusively from the Aerodramus family of swiftlets and then traditionally handpicked and cleaned. Only the saliva from these six subspecies of the edible-nest Swiftlet is considered an Edible Bird's Nest.
The Story behind Bird's Nest
There are many versions of the origins of Bird's Nest and how it became an Asian delicacy. The most commonly agreed ones were between the stories of Zheng He from the Ming Dynasty and Sardorono of Central Java which we will briefly touch upon.
According to historical records, Chinese people have eaten Bird's Nest for more than 500 years. Zheng He of the Ming Dynasty was said to be the first person to eat Bird's Nest from China when he accidentally discovered Bird's Nest off a deserted island in the Malay Archipelago.
When Zheng He returned from his voyage, he brought some Bird's Nests as a gift to Emperor Chengzu of the Ming Dynasty. Impressed, Ming Chengzu Zhu Di listed the natural Bird's Nest as a royal delicacy for the first time in the imperial court, and since then, Bird's Nest has always been highly regarded by the Chinese as a precious tonic.
According to folklore, a man named Sardorono in Central Java was exploring the caves of the high mountains by the sea when he chanced upon Bird's Nest. Curious, he decided to harvest the Nest and bring it home to stew.
Captivated by the taste, smell, and texture, he also noticed the difference in his vitality after consuming Bird's Nest. Before long, the local villagers heard about it and started harvesting them. Since then, Bird's Nest has been passed down through generations as a staple to improve bodily functions and therapeutic purposes.
Where is Bird's Nest Produced?
Traditionally, Bird's Nest is harvested from natural caves in South-East Asia and East Asia. Presently, most of the Bird's Nest supply derives from swiftlets houses due to the overwhelming demand for the commodity. Bird's Nest collectors would have to scale enormous heights measuring at least 150m using bamboo poles and rattan ladders to harvest the Nests.
Have you ever wondered from which countries the world's largest Bird's Nests producers are found? Indonesia leads with about 2,000 metric tonnes per year; Malaysia second with about 600 tonnes; and Thailand (400). As of 2021, 16,731 swiftlet houses and five swiftlet caves have been registered in Malaysia alone.
What does Bird's Nest taste like?
Bird's Nest gives off an eggy smell since they mainly contain protein. However, it does not have a particular taste, and its texture is likened to softened gelatin.
The Swiftlet is an insectivorous bird that mainly consumes insects for its diet. Although most Bird's Nests are farmed from houses, the diet of the Swiftlet is not controlled, which explains why they taste almost identical whether they are from natural caves or houses.
Why do people eat Bird's Nest?
Consuming Bird's Nest is beneficial to the human body of all ages. Skincare enthusiasts consume them for healthier skin growth & anti-aging properties. The elderly take Bird's Nest as they contain essential elements that help to supplement their daily nutrition intake. On the other hand, pregnant women consume Bird's Nest for better skin recovery and to improve infants' cognition development.
If you would like to view the complete list of benefits, you can refer to our article "10 Bird's Nest Benefits: Skin, Health & Immune system".
Why is Bird's Nest so expensive?
As you look into the various costs of producing Bird's Nest, it is evident that prices are highly reflective of the quality of Bird's Nest as well as the time and effort needed. Generally, you can expect to fork out around USD$200 — give or take — for an ounce of premium white swiftlet Dried Bird's Nest.
Natural Caves and Man-made houses alike experience costs associated directly with the time it takes for the Swiftlet to nest and develop. The nesting process only takes place 3 times a year, and it takes 30 to 35 days for the birds to build a Nest. In addition, nests still occupied by eggs or hatchings during the harvest are left alone to ensure sustainability.
The waiting game for Bird's Nest is no doubt financially strenuous, and farmers, in particular, have to wait a long time before seeing any return on their investment while bearing the cost of keeping the farms operational. As these swiftlets are not caged, imagine the losses that the farmers have to take if the Swiftlets do not visit their farms for nesting.
Additionally, if you don't harvest the Nest at the right time, it would contain more impurities, which means you either spend more time & effort cleaning it or have it sold cheaper to the market.
It takes a long time before Bird's Nest can be harvested, and the manufacturing process that includes handpicking, lab-testing, inspecting & storing increases the time needed and costs associated.
Bird's Nest may consist of Bird's saliva conjoined with feathers, twigs, and grass. At worst, it requires more effort if the Nest only contains 5% saliva and the rest impurities.
Even with modern technological advances, Bird's nest farmers have yet to implement any automation in the cleaning phase. Ethical suppliers still adopt the traditional handpicking method, which is labor intensive & time-consuming. At the same time, unscrupulous farmers often use bleaching agents to speed up the cleaning process to save time & cost.
Supply & Demand
Lastly, the age-old supply and demand law affects the final price. Bird's Nest has always been coveted as a superior tonic for luxury and royalty in China and various parts of Asia, making its consumption akin to a status symbol.
Bird's Nest's popularity has increased in the last few years, especially during the pandemic. While Bird's Nest farming has gained some ground in meeting consumer demand, more unique uses and diversity of products such as facial masks, skincare serum, and supplement strips have grown the industry to new heights in terms of sales volume. As a result, when demand outweighs supply, you probably know consuming this delicacy will get more expensive.
Official customs data shows China's import of Bird Nests surged from 41.5 tons to 340.4 tons from 2016 to 2020, a more than seven-fold increase in just five years.
What are the Types of Bird's Nest?
Unlike fish roes that are categorized according to the eggs of the different fish species, Bird's Nest can be classified according to its color, shape, house, or cave nest.
Cave Bird's Nest vs. House Nest
Edible Bird's Nests are harvested from two different types of terrain shown below:
Cave Nest – The Chinese origin of the name "Dongyan" is that swiftlets build their nests on mountain and rock caves and cliffs near the sea, which are mainly found in the islands of Indonesia and Thailand.
Cave nests usually contain more foreign objects and feathers than House nests because of the surrounding environment. The prices of Cave Nest are generally higher than House Nest because the risk factor of harvesting is higher in caves, whereas the harvest output is lower in comparison, and it's harder to clean.
House Nest – House Nest or "Wuyan" is the Bird's Nest collected in the Man-Made Swiftlet houses that come with nesting boards for swiftlets to build their nests, and there is generally no access to light in them.
House Nest has fewer impurities and feathers as the environment is ideal and controlled. The idea behind these houses came as early as the 1870s when a farmer in East Java, Indonesia, went out to make a living for several years. When he returned home, he was surprised to find that the Swiftlets had made a nest in his dilapidated house. He believed God's fortune bestowed on him, so he gave up his home to the Swiftlets for breeding and harvesting the Nest.
Red, Yellow, or White Bird's Nest...
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The color of Bird's Nest ranges from crème white to yellow gold to crimson red, depending on the environment where it is harvested.
Red Bird's Nest
Ember-like, crimson color, the natural Red Bird's Nest, better known by the Chinese as Blood Nest(血燕), is the most expensive, luxurious, and potent. Traditionally, Red Bird's Nest is superior to the other colors because of its enhanced health benefits. It is also a prized possession, as the Red Bird's Nest can only be found in caves.
There are several speculations on how Red Bird's Nest has its crimson color. As the name "Blood Nest" suggests, the most common folklore is that the swallows' saliva used to build a Bird's Nest contains blood, which has been proven untrue.
In fact, the Red Bird's Nest was originally a white Bird's Nest, but because of the natural reaction from the minerals of the caves, the white Bird's Nest absorbed a large number of trace elements such as iron, so its color changed to red over time. The Red Nest is also the perfect gift for auspicious occasions, which symbolizes prosperity & longevity.
Yellow Bird's Nest
Yellow Bird's Nest is the second most sought-after bird nest among consumers. Those who prefer the Yellow Nest over the White Nest might mention that to determine the authenticity of the Nest or to tell whether it is 100% genuine, the yellow Nest would be the safer choice. Why? The naturally occurring color comes from the diet of the Swiftlet during the nesting process.
Moreover, the season also determines the caves' temperature and humidity, which affects how the nest color would turn out. The yellow Nest seems thicker and chewier than the white Nest in terms of taste and texture.
White Bird's Nest
The most popular among Bird's Nest Consumers would be the White Bird's nests, the most commonly sold in the market.
They are highly nutritious, and many prefer their smooth and delicate texture. However, most problems consumers face from purchasing the white Nest is its authenticity. Is it 100% natural or has it undergone any bleaching? You may follow this guide to learn more about identifying a 100% Genuine Bird's Nest.
Different Shapes comes with Different prices...
You may also notice that two Bird's Nest products with the same weight but different shapes have a significant price difference. Read on to understand why.
Bird's Nest Cup or Palm: "Yanzhan" shape refers to a whole bird nest that retains its natural shape even after cleaning. This is the most valued shape, and it is also the preferred choice among consumers.
Bird's Nest Strands or Strips: After cleaning the whole cup, the stranded pieces that break off are called "Yantiao." Natural Bird's Nest is fragile, and sometimes pieces tend to break off during cleaning.
Bird's Nest Cake or Biscuit: Imagine having a biscuit, and while you munch at it, crumbs will inevitably fall off it. In this case, flakes or "Yansui" from the whole cup nest tend to fall off during cleaning. So to minimize wastage of these "gold" flakes, they are being shaped into cakes or biscuits artificially so they can be resold in the market.
Our Dried Bird's Nest is sold in cups or palms only at ZHEN as we want our customers to enjoy nature's superfood at its finest. Our ethically farmed 100% Genuine Bird's Nest is of the highest quality, free of chemicals, preservatives, artificial flavorings, additives, and stabilizers.
Grade A or B?
Are you familiar with how diamonds are priced according to their grades? Similarly, if you have been to shops that sell Bird's Nest, you might have noticed that they are sold in grades.
Bird's Nest grading, however, is subjective to the seller, unlike diamonds, where actual certifying bodies grade them. How these sellers grade Bird's Nest mostly depends on their shape & purity. For example, Grade A would be the most expensive because it has a perfectly shaped cup with the slightest impurities; Grade B, on the other hand, would be cheaper as it is not perfectly shaped and has more impurities than Grade A.
We do not grade our Dried Bird's Nest at Zhen simply because we pride ourselves on producing only the best for our consumers. Our factory's Bird's Nest is cleaned according to the strictest manufacturing guidelines of ISO22000 and HACCP in Singapore. When delivered to your doorstep, our Dried Bird's Nest does not require further cleaning and is also safe and ready to be cooked for consumption.
How should Bird's Nest be stored?
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Dried Bird's Nest can be stored between 0 - 4 degrees Celsius in the fridge. If stored correctly, the shelf-life of Dried Bird's Nest should last at least 3 years.
Freshly cooked or Bottled Bird's Nest should be consumed immediately after opening or within three days if kept in an airtight container. With that said, we do not encourage eating from the bottle for several days as there is also a decent risk of contamination from added oral bacteria that you might not be aware of. Without preservatives & stabilizers, the Bird's Nest will also go bad quickly because of changes in temperature and humidity levels.
Hi Nando, we recommend not drinking it. The manufacturer determines the expiry dates of the bottled bird’s nest after undergoing stringent tests to ensure it is safe for consumption within the period.
I got few boxes of bottled birdnest that passed its expired date for 4-5 mths. Is it still safe to drink?