Bird’s nest soup is a popular and rather expensive soup that originated in China. This soup used to be served to the affluent. But thanks to China’s booming economy, nouveau riche is able to afford this specialty soup. For a soup that has a mild flavor and very little nutrients, it commands hundreds of dollars per bowl. What’s so special about the soup anyway?
The soup’s main ingredient is an edible swiftlet’s nest. Instead of collecting twigs and leaves, the swiftlets would use their saliva to create white or black colored nests. The bird’s saliva hardens when exposed to air.
Swiftlets are high-flying birds that nest in the walls of caves. There are four species of swiftlets, three of which are native to Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines.
Using bamboo sticks, gatherers would harvest the gummy nests on steep cave walls by hand. One wrong move and the nests could cost a gatherer his life. There is a high demand for bird’s nest in China. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the nests are used to treat diseases. The difficulty of harvesting the nests coupled by the high demand for it, made edible bird’s nest a rare and prized commodity.
Facts About Edible Bird’s Nest
It’s Virtually Flavorless
Just like shark’s fin, bird’s nest has no flavor of its own. When making a soup, the chef relies on other spices to flavor the dish. Essentially, the bird’s nest adds texture and minimal nutrients to the soup. Bird’s nest is best consumed on an empty stomach. This way, the body can absorb the nutrients.
Quality by Color
Bird’s nests are sorted according to their color. The whitest of all are the most expensive. Grayish or even red-colored bird’s nests are often more affordable. The color of the nests did not come from the swiftlet’s blood. It’s caused by two things: oxidation or absorption of chemicals.
No Proven Healing Benefits
Although revered in Traditional Chinese Medicine, bird’s nest soup is not proven to cure any disease. However, the nest contains a type of protein that may strengthen the immune system. But scientific evidence is needed to support this claim.
May Accelerate Recovery
The Chinese usually serve bird’s nest soup to sick people. According to TCM specialists, the pre-digested proteins in the soup may help speed up recovery. But again, there is no scientific data to back this up.
The Dark Side of Destroying Swiftlet’s Natural Habitat
Tons of bird’s nests are being exported to China from Southeast Asian nations per year. Over- farming and habitat exploitation caused a sharp decline on swiftlets population – particularly in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
In Malaysia where bird’s nest is an emerging industry, business owners started building swiftlets farms. Unfortunately, conditions have to be perfect for the swiftlets to nest. According to one study, “internal airflows, relative humidity, air temperature distributions and light intensity are needed to create the right environment for swiftlets to breed.” Without taking these factors into consideration, bird’s nest farming will fail.
Conservationists around the world warn about the dangers of exploiting the population of swiftlets. The caves in which they live have fragile, self-sustaining ecosystem. The dwindling population of swiftlets will also affect the other animals that live in these caves.