Edible bird's nest
A bowl of bird's nest soup
|Alternative name(s)||Yanwo or 燕窝|
|Place of origin||China|
|Region or state||Chinese-speaking areas|
|Main ingredient(s)||Swiftlet's nest, water, sugar|
|Edible bird's nest|
|Literal meaning||swallow's nest|
Edible bird's nests are among the most expensive animal products consumed by humans. The nests have been used in Chinese cooking for over 400 years, most often as bird's nest soup.
The Chinese name for edible bird's nest, yàn wō (燕窝), translates literally as "swallow's nest", and often serves as a synonym for bird's nest soup, however yàn wō strictly speaking is the uncooked nest.
The most famous use of edible birds nest is bird's nest soup, a delicacy in Chinese cuisine. When dissolved in water, the birds' nests have a gelatinous texture used for soup or sweet tong sui. It is mostly referred to as "yan wo" unless references are made to the salty or sweet soup in Chinese cuisine
In addition to its use in soup, edible birds nest can be used as an ingredient in many other dishes, it can be cooked with rice to produce bird's nest congee or bird's nest boiled rice, or it can be added to egg tarts and other desserts. A bird's nest jelly can be made by placing the bird's nest in a ceramic container with minimal water and sugar (or salt) and double steamed. Ready to eat bird's nest jelly is available in jars as a commercial product.
The most heavily harvested nests are from the Edible-nest Swiftlet or White-nest Swiftlet (Aerodramus fuciphagus) and the Black-nest Swiftlet (Aerodramus maximus). The white nests and the red nests are supposedly rich in nutrients, which are traditionally believed to provide health benefits, such as aiding digestion, raising libido, improving the voice, alleviating asthma, improving focus, and an overall benefit to the immune system.
Most nests are built during the breeding season by the male swiftlet over a period of 35 days. They take the shape of a shallow cup stuck to the cave wall. The nests are composed of interwoven strands of salivary laminae cement. Both nests have high levels of calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium.
Hong Kong and the United States are the largest importers of these nests. In Hong Kong, a bowl of bird's nest soup would cost $30 USD to $100 USD. A kilogram of white nest can cost up to $2,000 USD, and a kilogram of red nests can cost up to $10,000 USD. The white nests are commonly treated with a red pigment, but methods have been developed to determine an adulterated nest. Natural red cave nests are often only found in limestone caves in a bird nest concession island in Thailand. The high cost and demand has attracted counterfeiters, leading to the halt of Malaysian nest exports to China; the Malaysian government has undertaken to employ RFID technology to thwart counterfeiting by micro-chipping nests with details about harvesting, packaging and transport. 
The nests were formerly harvested from caves, principally the enormous limestone caves at Gomantong and Niah in Borneo. With the escalation in demand these sources have been supplanted since the late 1990s by purpose-built nesting houses, usually reinforced concrete structures following the design of the Southeast Asian shop-house ("rumah toko"/"ruko"). These nesting houses are normally found in urban areas near the sea, since the birds have a propensity to flock in such places. This has become an extraordinary industry, mainly based on a series of towns in the Indonesian Province of North Sumatra, which have been completely transformed by the activity. From there the nests are mostly exported to the markets in Hong Kong, which has become the centre of the world trade, though most of the final consumers are from mainland China. It has been estimated that the products now account for 0.5% of the Indonesian GDP, equivalent to about a quarter of the country's fishing industry.
Ko Lao Liang Tai island, in southern Thailand, where bird nests are collected
Because it is an animal product, it is subject to strict import restrictions in some countries. Import of bird's nest to Australia is strictly prohibited. In Canada commercially prepared, canned and sterile bird's nest preparations are generally acceptable but may be subject to restrictions.
- Hobbs, Joseph J. (2004) "Problems in the harvest of edible birds’ nests in Sarawak and Sabah, Malaysian Borneo." A few species of swift, the cave swifts, are renowned for building the saliva nests used to produce the unique texture of this soup. Biodiversity and Conservation 13: 2209-2226.
- Marcone, Massimo F. (2005) "Characterization of the edible bird's nest the Caviar of the East". Food Research International 38:1125-1134.
- Gausset, Quentin.(2004) "Chronicle of a Foreseeable Tragedy: Birds' Nests Management in the Niah Caves (Sarawak)." Human Ecology 32: 487-506.
- "Bird-nest Soup, Anyone?" by Therese Park, Koreabridge Writings, 8 February 2005.
- "Characterization of the edible bird’s nest the “Caviar of the East”" by Massimo F. Marcone, Food Research International, Volume 38, Issue 10, December 2005, Pages 1125-1134.
- "Chinese Delicacy Tagged with RFID". RFID World. 2012-06-30. Retrieved 2013-01-20.
- http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/imports/airs/eng/1300127512994/1326599324773#. Text "Canadian Food Inspection Agency website" ignored (help); Missing or empty
- Jordan, David (2004). "Globalisation and Bird's Nest Soup". International Development Planning Review, volume 26, number 1. Liverpool University Press.
- Lau, Amy S. M., and Melville, David S. (April 1994). International Trade in Swiftlet Nests with Special Reference to Hong Kong. Traffic Network. ISBN 1-85850-030-3.
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