Bird's nests? Bird's saliva?
Yes, but there's something more about it that you may not know
before. Have you ever wondered why people, especially the Chinese
are fond of bird's nests? And why are they so expensive? A kilo
of unprocessed raw bird's nests costs 100,000-120,000 baht (1USD
= around 40 baht).
Since the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907), the Chinese have regarded
bird's nest soup the supreme delicacy with rich medicinal properties.
They drink it as a tonic to boost the function of the lungs.
Here, Thaiways is introducing to you some interesting information
about bird's nests.
From which species of swift do we get the edible bird's nests?
There are three species of swifts in Thailand that produce edible
nests viz. the Edible-nest Swiftlet, Pacific Swift and Black-nest
Swiftlet. The nests of the first two species are white while
those of the last are black with feathers, dust and droppings
mixed together, and are considered of low quality. Even though
most bird's nests in Thailand are products of Edible-nest Swiftlets,
in the east of Thailand, especially in Trat Province, most nests
harvested are of Pacific Swifts.
The appearances of nests
Edible-nest Swiftlets and Pacific Swifts build their white nests
in the form of a half cup. The nests are constructed by glutinous
strands of starch-like saliva of the birds. Sometimes the nests
are mixed with their feathers.
Black-nest Swiftlets build larger nests when compared with the
Edible-nest Swiftlets and the Pacific Swifts. These birds construct
nests with their feathers which are conjoined with their saliva.
All species build their nests on the ledges of limestone caves
or in the cracks of granite mountains, the height of which is
more than 10 metres. Inside these caves, the air usually has
The first harvest begins in March which corresponds with the
mating season. The female birds will construct the nests for
laying eggs. They build the nests during the night and go
looking for food during the day. It will take 30-35 days to
finish a nest. Thus, the excellent opportunity for the collectors
to harvest the nests is by day when the mother birds are not
in the cave. The harvest must be done before they lay eggs.
Otherwise, the eggs will be damaged. And as a result, the
female birds will no longer lay eggs for the rest of the year.
However, if the collectors collect the nests too soon, the
quality of the nests will not meet standard because they have
not been fully developed.
The difficult and risky harvesting
a reason why bird's nests are expensive.
When they see the nests disappeared, the
mother-to-be birds, out of their instinct to maintain their
species, will build a second nest. That is why after the first
harvest, the collector will wait one month for the birds to
construct a new nest. After the second nests are harvested,
another three months will be allowed to pass before the third
nests are ready for harvesting for the last time of the year
The third nests are the nest where the
baby birds live and grow. The reason to wait for three months
is to allow time for the baby birds to hatch out of the eggs
and to grow up strong enough to fly and forage. The mother
birds will spend one month to incubate. After the third nests
were harvested, the cave will be isolated until the next year.
Bird's nests packed for distribution
Levels of bird's nests quality
The expensive high-quality nests are the first nests harvested
for the first time in the harvesting season. The bird's nests
collected during this time are white and less contaminated.
The third nests, are more dirty because they are harvested after
the baby birds have grown up and left the nests. These nests
need to be cleaned up more than the earlier ones.
The prices of the first nests are very high. A kilo of unprocessed
nests costs 100,000-120,000 baht, while that of the third nests
are lower. In former times, only the emperors or the well-to-do
would be able to taste the genuine bird's nests. However, if
we take into consideration the danger one must face when climbing
to get a bird's nest, the prices are reasonable.
Ethics of the bird's nest concessionaires
The operators must strictly hold on to the conservation principles
which aim to sustainably make the most of bird's nests. That
is to utilize them for the longest possible period of time
and produce the least waste. Harvesting the nests especially
for the third time means that although the nests are of poor
quality, they had better be collected than be allowed to decay
since the baby birds have already left the nests. Concessionaires
must not break the rules of birds's nest harvesting because
it will lead to devastation.
Beliefs about reddish brown nests
It is believed that the bird's nests of reddish brown colour
are produced by the mother birds who have to rebuild the nests
for several times until their saliva becomes blood. The reddish
brown bird's nests thus, are rated as the supreme delicacy
rich in nutritions which gourmets will pay any costs to taste
Recently, many researchers have found that what causes the
reddish brown colour is the chemical reaction among oxygen,
iron and humidity which results in rust. Humidity also stimulates
the rust to be absorbed into the nest making them reddish
brown. There are actually no more nutritions in this kind
of nests than in the others.
Bird's nests are believed to act as a tonic for the lungs
and can help keep the function of respiratory system homeostatic.
They are also excellent for boosting the blood circulation
system for children, patients in recovering stage, women after
delivery and the old. Bird's nest soup is praised as a superb
tonic so full of benefits that it is prohibited to add cooking
oil or other seasonings to it.
A research studying the bird's nest has found that it can
help stimulate the process of the cell formation as well.
In addition, the scientists of Thailand Institute of Scientific
and Technological Research (TISTR) have found that the following
chemical compounds are contained in the bird's nest:
Water 5.11%, Protein 60.9%, Calcium 0.85%, Potassium 0.05%,
Besides, in 1963, there was an overseas study about bird's
nests. It indicated that the chemical compounds extracted
from bird's nests effectively prohibited the process of Haemagglutination
which caused the common cold and influenza.
Bird's nest sources in Thailand
In Thailand, the southern region, including especially Krabi,
Phuket and Nakhon Si Thammarat, is the largest area producing
bird's nests. In addition, there is another producing source
in the eastern provinces such as Rayong and Trat.
How to cook bird's nests
1.Clean the nests in fresh water two to three times. Soak
them in water for 1-2 hours until they are swollen. Then use
forceps to remove the impurities. After that, wash them for
another two times. Then, take bird's nests out of the water
and leave them to drip.
2. Stew bird's nests in a pot, using low heat. The water in
the pot must cover every part of the bird's nests. After stewing
for 15 minutes, add rock sugar. Continue stewing it for an
3. Another way to cook bird's nest is just heat it in water
until it is boiling. Then add sugar and remove the heat.
4. Cleaned or cooked bird's nest should be kept in a refrigerator.
If you are in Bangkok, it is very convenient to try bird's
nest soup. Most restaurants in Chinatown on Yaowarat Road
serve it. And if you are in other major tourist provinces
such as Phuket, you can order bird's nest soup at almost any
Special thanks to A.P.B. Phuket Bird's Nest for giving
Thaiways useful information and photos.