A History of Bird's Nest Soup

Bird's nest
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Bird’s nest soup is one of the most famous but also most controversial delicacies in Chinese cuisine. Many people are willing to spend small fortunes on this soup as they believe eating bird’s nest soup will help them keep the last of their youth as well as have a long healthy life and a strong body. It’s believed a solution for these is to eat a bowl of bird’s nest soup.

But the nutritional truth is if you want bird’s nest soup to work its magic you will have to consume this soup regularly. Just consuming a small bowl of bird’s nest soup won’t bring your youth back or give you a long life. Some bird’s nest soup promoters say a regular diet of 10 grams a day is necessary.

Edible Bird's Nest

Edible bird’s nests are made by the saliva of the swiftlet and the saliva is produced by the glands under the tongue. Swiftlets are small birds usually found in South-East Asia. The swiftlet lives in dark caves and similar to bats use echolocation to move around. Instead of twigs and straw, the swiftlet makes its nest from strands of its own gummy saliva which hardens when exposed to air.

This is where the controversy also comes in. Swiftlets are an endangered species and the more nests that are consumed the closer swiftlets head towards extinction. Swiftlets are especially endangered in areas like the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. There are also places like Dazhou Island and Hainan where the Chinese government has banned harvesting bird’s nests as swiftlets are nearly extinct in these locations.

Harvesting Nests

Today in many places, for example, Malaysia and Thailand, people have started farming the swiftlet’s to collect their nests. These farms are using empty houses as swiftlet’s homes.

Some of the processes of harvesting nests are extremely dangerous. The nest collector usually uses a very narrow, shaky, and long wooden ladder which they climb on top of to reach the nests which are usually located at the top of caves. Many nest collectors have lost their lives because of this.

History of Bird's Nest Soup

Chinese people began consuming bird’s nest soup during the Ming Dynasty and in some tales, it’s believed Zhen He (鄭和), who was a Chinese explorer, diplomat and fleet admiral, was the first person in Chinese history to eat bird’s nest soup.

There are different grades of bird’s nest which are red, yellow, and white. The red bird’s nest is known in Chinese as the “blood-red bird’s nest (血燕). The red bird’s nest is the rarest. Some people believe the blood red bird’s nest is made of the swiftlet's blood but that’s not true at all. The reason the bird’s nest turn “blood red” is due to different diet and contained more mineral and different kind of nutrition.

Consuming Bird's Nest

The bird’s nest doesn’t really have a lot of taste and the texture is a bit like softened gelatin and jelly. Chinese people usually cook bird’s nest soup with rock sugar and serve as a sweet dessert soup. Some people prefer to cook bird’s nest without rock sugar but mix it with some warm milk. The cooking process is extremely critical for cooking bird’s nest. Microwave cooking or boiling on a stove will lose any taste it has as well as lose any of its nutritional values. The common way to cook bird’s nest soup is to slowly and gently steam it after soaking it in water.