You might be surprised to hear when you know some people eat a bird nest. How could a person eat a bird nest? In fact bird nest soup is super popular in South East Asia. Edible bird nest (EBN) is one the most highly valued of the food products of South East Asia. Southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand, are the major exporting countries of EBN. Human consumption and medicinal application of EBN could be dated back to the Tang dynasty (618–907 A.D.) and the Sung dynasty (960–1279 A.D.) in China (Koon and Cranbrook, 2002).EBN has been used for centuries in China and commonly referred to as the “Caviar of the East‟ .
My mother once told me the bird made their nest with their saliva one drop by one drop, this is what made them expensive, but with great prices comes a ton of benefit. Edible Bird’s Nest (EBN) was a significant item in the cuisine and pharmacy of the Emperors of China during the 16th century (Lau and Melville, 1994). EBN has been known considered to be one of the most precious food items by the Chinese for thousands of years (Ouet al., 2001).
There are more than 24 species of swiftlets, but only a few produce nests that are deemed edible. The high-protein secretion used in forming the nest is produced by a pair of large salivary glands under the tongue. The secretion hardens on exposure after the bird has shaped it into a cup-shaped nest. The secretion also serves to glue the nest to the ceiling of the cave or building in which the birds live, mate and raise their young in the nest.
The majority of EBN traded worldwide comes from two species, the White nest swiflet (Aerodramusfuciphagus) and the Black-nest swiflet (Aerodramusmaximus) Their habitats range from the Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean to sea caves in the coastal regions of Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Borneo and the Palawan Islands in the Philippines.
In general, EBN can be divided into cave nest (harvested from natural caves) and house nest (made in attic of the countryside house/cultivated in buildings). Dried and cleaned EBN is double-boiled with sugar to become bird’s nest soup for consumption. Traditionally, EBN is double boiled with rock sugar to make a delicacy known as bird’s nest soup. The Chinese name for bird’s nest soup, yanwo translates literally as “swallow’s nest‟. This soup is especially valued by the Chinese and Vietnamese for its reputed health benefits. The advancement in technology enabled a large variety of EBN-related products emerged in the market. These products are readily served in canned or precooked form.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), EBN is believed to offer good effects for treating consumptive disease, curing tuberculosis, dry coughs, alleviating asthma, stomach ulcer, relieving gastric troubles and the general weakness of bronchial ailments. Consuming EBN regularly can give a person exuberant physical and mental strength as well as to restore one’s youthfulness. The tonic powers of the EBN are believed to improve skin complexion and to slow the aging effect. It is also traditionally believed to provide health benefits, such as aiding digestion, raising libido, improving the voice, and improving concentration. Several studies has been done to prove EBN has nutritious and therapeutic values, such as anti-influenza viruses, antioxidant, skin lightening, bone strength improvement, anti-inflammatory, and epidermal growth enhancement (Kong et al., 1987; Kong et al., 1989; Guoet al., 2006; Aswir and Wan Nazaimoon, 2011; Matsukawa et al., 2011; Yew et al., 2014; Chan et al., 2015)
More than half of EBN’s weight consists of protein. According to Marcone (2005), the composition of bird nest is: lipid (fat) 0.14 – 1.28%, ash 2.1%, carbohydrate 25.62 – 27.76% and protein 62 – 63%. The major nutrient components of EBN are glycoproteins (Kathan& Weeks, 1969) rich with amino acids, carbohydrate, calcium, sodium and potassium (Norhayatiet al., 2010) and abundant sialic acid-containing sugar chains (Kakehiet al. 1994) This unique glycoprotein structure in EBN makes it different from other protein sources such as chicken and fish in term of solubility, functional properties, and bioactive compounds. The glycoprotein in bird’s nest contains about 9% sialic acid, 4.19 to 7.2% galactosamine, about 5.3% glucosamine, 5.03 to 16.9% galactose, and about 0.7% fucose (Kathan and Weeks 1969, Tung et al. 2008). The most abundant amino acids are serine, threonine, aspartic acid, glutamic acid, proline, and valine (Kathan& Weeks 1969). The nutrient content of EBN may be affected by seasonal variations and even breeding sites (Norhayatiet al, 2010).
Many people question whether bird nest soup is really nutritious and therapeutic. Studies by the Innovation Centre of Food Technology (MANIS) University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) indicate that bird nest soup has the highest antioxidant and antihypertensive activities compared to chicken and fish (haruan) soups. The results obtained from the other studies done indicated EBN as a good supplement and nourishment to the skin with some anti-aging properties by increasing the elasticity and maintaining the youthful skin with collagen.
Utah Agriculture Science Journal has research that shown that birds nest is best cooked within a period of two to four hours. However, the optimum time for cooking EBN is about two hours. It is important not to overcook so that its functional biological properties are retained. So for those who never tried edible birds nest, what are you waiting for? Try now for yourself so you can see what’s the fuss all about even in the early Tang and Sung dynasty.
Co-founder and Head of Marketing for HoneyCity. Henry’s passion is building e-commerce businesses that create value for the society. Through his interactions with people around him, he realizes that there is a lack in understanding of how to improve health through food and that idea gave birth to HoneyCity. In his free time, he enjoys watching a movie or reading a book.