Chinese Swallow's Nest Soup With Rock Sugar

Swallow's Nest Soup With Rock Sugar
Takahiro Yamagiwa/Flickr/CC
Prep: 5 mins
Cook: 2 hrs 30 mins
Soaking : 8 hrs
Total: 10 hrs 35 mins
Servings: 2 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
225 Calories
0g Fat
57g Carbs
1g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 2
Amount per serving
Calories 225
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 25mg 1%
Total Carbohydrate 57g 21%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 50g
Protein 1g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 16mg 1%
Iron 0mg 0%
Potassium 2mg 0%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Edible bird nests are a delicacy in Chinese cuisine and are widely sought after for their nutritional value and supposed aphrodisiac properties. Harvested with care from birds such as the swallow or swiftlet, the nests can go for hundreds of dollars per pound—sometimes thousands—and represent one of the most expensive animal-derived products consumed by humans, alongside abalones, white truffles, and jamón Ibérico de Bellota, or Bellota ham. Our recipe for this delicious bird's nest soup requires just three ingredients: nests, water, and rock sugar. Though expensive, the investment will pay off; the result is a sweet and delicate concoction. To make this soup you need to plan ahead because the nests need soaking for a few hours or overnight. Once cooked, the soup has a pleasant gelatinous consistency.

The nest are made of birds' solidified saliva and their harvesting has changed from retrieving wild nests from cliffs to cultivating man-made nesting houses by the sea that the birds are attracted to. In either case, the high price tag comes from the retrieval process, in which men and women have to handpick the ready nests while leaving behind for a future harvest the ones that aren't ready. The nests must have had eggs hatched inside and be retrieved before new eggs are laid down. Most of the market for these nests exists in mainland China and Hong Kong, but many man-made nesting houses are located in Thailand. Another part of the high price comes from the cleaning process: The nests have feathers mixed in with the saliva, so all the nonedible solids need to be carefully hand removed. Many online Asian retailers sell real nests, but check the provenance as there are counterfeit nests and other types that have been bleached and processed to make them edible.

Rock sugar is less sweet than granulated sugar and gives the soup a mildly sweet touch that is not overpowering. Commonly used in Asian cuisine, rock sugar is made from solidified sugar syrup, or a mixture of water and sugar—thus less sweet. Find it online and in some upscale grocers. Legend has it that consuming bird's nest soup can restore one's health and beauty and reverse the effects of aging. As you might imagine, the jury is still out on this.


  • 2 ounces bird nests

  • 4 cups water

  • 7 to 8 tablespoons crushed rock sugar, or to taste

Steps to Make It

  1. To prepare the bird's nests, soak in cold water for several hours or overnight. Rinse well. Go over the nests and pick out any loose feathers.

  2. Boil the bird's nests twice by bringing a pot of water to a boil and simmering the bird's nests for about 5 minutes. Drain and again add to a pot of water, bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain, rinse well and squeeze dry.

  3. Place the bird's nests in the pot and add 4 cups water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the bird's nests are quite soft (up to 2 hours). Add the rock sugar, stirring to dissolve.

  4. Serve the soup hot.


  • You'll want to save this for a special occasion. Authentic bird's nests are quite expensive, not surprising given that the nests come from the hardened saliva of the swiftlet swallow. It could be a good choice for a romantic evening, as a bird's nest is rumored to be ​an aphrodisiac