Thinking of buying bird’s nest?
Read this useful guide on the key things you need to know first!
This is a type of luxury food that’s available in different grades and qualities. Despite what they are – think bird’s saliva – they’ve been taken as soup since the Ming Dynasty and remain popular among people today.
They are often consumed as a form of beauty food and are known to boost your complexion, immune system and stimulate cell growth.
Despite its popularity, many cannot differentiate between real and fake products nor the different grades available in the market.
Don’t confuse them with bird’s nest fern, a plant that grows mostly in Southeast Asia!
How Do I Choose the Best Bird’s Nest?
As a general guide, you can choose them according to these qualities:
- Boat-shaped or cup-shaped, with a smaller edge size
- Firm texture with thicker strands, natural ivory white colour (Not too white)
- Clean, with a minimal amount of feathers
- By country or cave/house types
In this article, we’ll look at the different grades and show you how to choose the best for you and your loved ones!
Choosing Your Bird’s Nest by Shape
The ideal shape can be ranked in the following order:
- Boat- or cup-shaped: intact, whole nest that maintains the shape and strands
- Triangle shape: medium-sized, triangle pieces of nests, usually 3 or more such pieces from 1 nest
- Strips: broken strips stripped from the bird’s nest
- Cake form: small, tiny broken pieces of nest, meshed together in a piece form
They are built on cave or farmhouse walls using the glutinous saliva secreted by swiftlets.
Their saliva is rich in protein and amino acids which can assist in the recovery of chronic illness and relieve common ailments such as asthma and cough.
If the swiftlets’ nests can be harvested whole, it commands a higher price as the strands are intact and unbroken.
This is why the highest quality nests are usually boat-shaped or cup-shaped. The price is determined by the size and shape of the nest.
The finer and more compact the strands are, the higher the price. They are those curved in the shape of a cup, or a boat, as shown above.
The second most desired would be triangle-shaped, where two or more such pieces come from one nest.
After that comes those in strips that are intact strands of bird’s nest stripped from broken nests. They can be bought at a much lower price at a decent quality.
Lastly, the cake form is made of meshed together tiny pieces of broken bird’s nests.
These belong to the lowest quality and are often used for bottled drinks.
Choose by Its Texture and Colour
Feel it. Does the nest feel firm? The strands should be thicker and tightly woven together. If the strands are loose and feel soft, the quality is not the best.
Also, there should be a slight fishy smell for good quality bird’s nest.
For the best quality, the colour is natural ivory white. It shouldn’t be too pure, as it would suggest that bleaching has occurred to give it an unnatural white tinge. Here are the various colours and what they signify:
- White: purer and without minerals from cave walls or farm walls, suitable for all
- Golden Yellow: with mineral absorption from cave walls
- Red: not from the swiftlets’ blood, but from mineral absorption from certain caves
Golden and red coloured varieties are rarer as they can be harvested only from certain caves in South East Asia. They also command a higher price due to the rich mineral content and quality.
Golden and Red Bird’s Nest
The gold and red nests are suitable for pregnant ladies, the elderly or recovering patients. Examples are anaemic or post-surgery patients who need replenishment for the minerals they lack.
Whether golden or red nest, they should be taken in moderation, such as weekly (instead of daily) due to the higher levels of minerals it contains.
We advise seeking your doctor’s advice before including golden or red nests as part of your diet.
Choosing Bird’s Nest Based on Cleanliness
When you buy from merchants, you can ask for these three types of quality:
- Premium quality nests – (Aerodramus Fuciphagus): made out of 95% edible saliva and 5% feathers and debris
- Feather prime nests: made of 50% edible saliva and 50% feathers and debris
- Grass nest: made of only 5% edible saliva and 95% of feathers and debris
Needless to say, the premium quality nests are the best and fetch the highest prices.
Most brands will have cleaning specialists and you can buy those that are ready to cook. There are some types that require cleaning yourself.
This option will be much cheaper due to the extra time and effort needed to use a tweezer to remove feathers and debris.
Choosing by Countries of Origin
Where Are Bird’s Nests From?
Edible bird’s nests are only found in South East Asia. Those originating from different countries will differ in taste and quality so it’s important for you to note where they are from to justify the price and quality.
Bird nests from these countries are ranked according to pricing and quality. You can choose the quality based on the ranks. And needless to say, the top-ranked is the most expensive:
Bird’s nests from Vietnam are of a higher quality due to the unique environmental conditions.
They are richer in taste and stronger in the aroma. There’s a limited supply of such high-quality nests and they command a high global price.
Nests harvested from Thailand are denser, firmer and thicker than normal, and of high quality desired by consumers.
These are cave swiftlets’ nests and difficult and low volume to harvest, hence the higher quality and price. They require more time to soak and cook.
The texture of nests made in Indonesia are softer and smoother.
These nests are also cleaner as most are harvested from more accessible caves and farms and prices are generally lower. Most Indonesian nests have decent quality, and they supply 70% of the world’s demands.
The majority of bird’s nests harvested from Malaysia are from farms and the nests are therefore more affordable and cleaner.
Cave Bird’s Nests Are Usually Priced Higher Than Farms’
Edible nests are harvested only either from farms specially catered for swiftlets or in caves on cliffs. Regardless of where the nests are harvested from, their nutritional content is similar.
Farms generally produce much cleaner nests due to the controlled environments where the nests are built, resulting in a high-quality harvest.
Licensed farms also practice sustainable harvesting where the nests are only collected after they are abandoned by the swiftlets.
Cave nests, on the other hand, are built on the walls of caves and contain more foreign materials and impurities as compared to house nests.
Minerals from the walls also tend to seep into the nests, giving the nests their golden or red colour as harvesters go further into the caves.
How to Identify Good Quality Bird’s Nests
- Boat-shaped or cup-shaped
- Fine and firm texture, red, golden or ivory white colour
- Clean, with minimal feathers or debris
- From Vietnam, Thailand or Indonesia
HoneyCity offers premium bird’s nests at the best prices. They are imported directly from the suppliers in Indonesia and are carefully selected to guarantee satisfaction.
Different Grades of Bird Nest
As these nests are eaten for the nutrients in the birds’ saliva, the nest of top quality should be made up of at least 95% saliva with minimal processing and cleaning to be edible.
Bottom line: the lower the saliva percentage and the more processing and cleaning required, the lower the quality.
Nests with 95% saliva concentration will be the best while a concentration of 50% and 10% saliva would fall into the second or third tier.
How to Identify Fake Bird’s Nest
Not all nests are made equal and it will be hard for everyone to differentiate real products from the fakes in the market.
You should take note of the following when choosing yours:
Identifying Real Bird’s Nest by Colour and Purity
The quality can be determined by its colour and purity.
When cleaned, high-quality nests should be translucent with a natural ivory colour. Golden or red bird’s nests are the results of minerals and impurities present in the nest which may affect their quality.
You should be wary of nests that are extremely white as it may indicate that the product has been artificially treated or bleached to pass off a fake product as real.
Such products have poor quality, making them dangerous to eat. Therefore, it’s important that you only purchase products from trusted and reliable sources.
Identifying by Size, Volume, and Thickness
The price of dried raw nests should justify their size, shape, thickness, and firmness.
While the most popular shapes are either the boat or spoon, the nutritional value of both are the same. However, wider and thicker nest cups are generally of a higher quality.
Preparing and Eating Bird’s Nest
You can also tell the quality of the nest you bought when you prepare and eat it.
Density and Volume
You should note that large and thick bird’s nest cups expand more when soaked in water. The speed of swelling when soaked is based on the location of harvest.
House nests usually expand and cook quicker than cave nests as cave nests are generally more firm.
Good quality nests should not break up easily when soaked in water and the saliva strips should slowly expand before turning transparent without changing the colour of the water.
Breaking up and the presence of a murky liquid may be signs of a fake or bleached product.
Taste and Smell
The taste and smell are signs of whether the bird’s nest you are preparing is real or not.
As bird’s nests are made from the saliva of the swiftlets, genuine products will have a fishy taste and it should give off an aroma similar to egg whites.
If the fishy taste is missing, it might indicate that the nest is of inferior quality and it might be fake, especially if it reeks of additives or plastic.
You can also tell the source of a bird’s nest based on how it feels in the mouth.
Cave nests tend to be crunchy and chewy, while house nests are softer, smoother, and more slippery.
It’s easier to tell whether the bird’s nest is real or fake through the taste, smell and texture when you cook it.
However, if you’ve already paid for it, it’s too late to ask for a refund.
Therefore, it’s important that you only buy those from reliable and credible sources to prevent falling prey to inferior or fake goods.
Consuming counterfeit bird’s nests can be bad for human health as seen in this article on fake food.
Is Bottled Bird’s Nest Good?
Even though bottled bird’s nests may be “instant” and readily available at your nearest supermarket, they may be bad for your health.
Some contain high levels of sugar. Consistent drinking may have negative effects on your health such as weight gain, diabetes, and high cholesterol. You may wish to opt for bottles with less sugar.
It is recommended for you to purchase dried raw nests and prepare the serving yourself to have better control over the nutritional content.
How Do I Store Bird’s Nest to Preserve Them?
Raw dried nests should be stored in a cool, dry, and airtight environment, preferably in the refrigerator or somewhere away from heat.
Storing it away from heat, sunlight, and moisture in the kitchen cabinet will help to lengthen the shelf life.
Bird’s nest usually has a shelf life of two years.
Bottled forms should be consumed within a few days once it is opened and kept in the refrigerator. Unopened bottles usually last up to 2.5 years.
When cooked, birds nest soup or dessert stored in the refrigerator is able to keep well for a week.
Finish cooked bird nest as soon as possible so that the nutrients inside are still present.
Who Should Eat Bird’s Nest?
Bird’s Nest for the Family
White bird’s nests are usually safe and suitable for everyone to consume daily due to the high levels of protein and amino acids that are beneficial for you and your loved ones.
Golden and red nests should be taken in moderation because of the levels of minerals within the nests.
Mineral levels are determined by both the swiftlet’s mineral intake and the environment where the nests are harvested.
Bird’s nests vary in colour depending on the type of environment they are grown in as they contain different levels of minerals. However, the levels of protein and amino acids are similar regardless of location.
Bird’s Nest for Pregnancy
Bird’s nest is safe and good to eat during pregnancy as it contains nutrients needed for pregnant mothers.
The Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF) in bird’s nest stimulates cellular proliferation and development. Many traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners recommend eating this during pregnancy or during confinement to recover from childbirth.