Bird’s nest soup gets its name from the main ingredient used in preparing it, which is a real bird’s nest.
Also called ‘bird’s saliva soup’, bird’s nest soup is considered a Chinese delicacy. It’s expensive, and people have spent fortunes on the soup as they believe that eating it will help them remain youthful and have a long, healthy life. Chinese medicine believes that bird’s nest soup is especially good for the skin.
The soup has been a part of Chinese cuisine for decades. Bird’s nest soup was first eaten during the Ming Dynasty and it is believed that Zhen He, a Chinese explorer, was the first person to eat it.
Bird’s nest soup gets its name from the main ingredient used in preparing it, which is a real bird’s nest. However, the nests used for this soup are not simply found on trees, but instead belong to the swiftlet, a small bird found in Southeast Asia. The swiftlet makes its nest using strands of its own saliva instead of twigs. When exposed to air, the nest hardens. The edible nests are known as the ‘caviar of the East’. These edible nests are structurally elaborate: tightly woven, and made of sturdy threads that may be red, yellow or white.
Bird’s nest soup is rare to find and has been rated as one of the most expensive animal products eaten by people. The most coveted among bird’s nests used for making soup are ‘red nests’, made by the red-nest swiftlet, which can cost $10,000 per kilogram. The most common are white- and black-nests, which may cost from $5,000 to $6,000 per kilogram.
Bird’s nest soup isn’t very flavourful, and is jelly-like in texture. It is usually cooked with rock sugar and served as a dessert in China. Some people cook it without sugar, mixed with warm milk. The ideal way to make bird’s nest soup is to slowly simmer it after having soaked the nest in water.
Besides the fact that people spend a lot of money on this soup, there is another aspect of this dish that stirs up controversy. Swiftlets are a species in danger of extinction, and the more nests that are used for human consumption, the more endangered swiftlets become. The Chinese government even has banned the harvesting of bird’s nests in places like Hainan.