Edible Bird's Nest (EBN): A Rare Asian Delicacy

Updated on July 28, 2019
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Mike and Dorothy are avid birders and nature lovers. Dorothy is a former newspaper reporter who has written several nature-related books.

The dried white bird nest created by the swiftlet bird is considered a delicacy in Asian countries and is widely used in Chinese medicine. If you can't live without it, 100 grams will cost you about $450.
The dried white bird nest created by the swiftlet bird is considered a delicacy in Asian countries and is widely used in Chinese medicine. If you can't live without it, 100 grams will cost you about $450. | Source

We, the People of America, Eat What We Like

In America, we do things a little differently from most other countries—and much of it has to do with our eating habits. As a result, many of us are overweight and unhealthy, and the fast-food industry here is worth about $200 billion. There are almost 900 calories in one order of a Big Mac and French fries from McDonald's. We know this because they post it publicly, and yet the popular chain still sells over 500 million Big Macs every year in the United States.

Alternative Food?

With that in mind, would you be open to learning about "alternative" foods? If so, many people claim that the edible bird's nest (EBN) is very healthy. But most of us in this country would rather be fat and sick than try an actual bird's nest—even it has been specially cleaned for human consumption.

Globally, the EBN industry is estimated to be around $5 billion. Personally, I'll just take a quarter-pounder with cheese since I haven't been able to locate a single reliable expert on nutrition who advocates that we in this country make bird saliva a part of our diet. Not one.

Heck, before I started my research, I didn't know there was such a thing as an edible bird's nest, but I'm going to try my best to make sure you know everything there is to know about this "delicacy" by the time you finish reading this article. Of course, it's possible that some of you may not make it to the end. Others, however, may be ready to place their order for their own supply.

I'm Not Picking on McDonald's

I only used McDonald's as an example because there's not a person alive who has not heard of them. I could have just as easily used Taco Bell, Burger King, Wendy's, or any of hundreds of other fast-food restaurants. I love them all, but if you eat enough of anything at any of them, you're probably going to pack on a pound or two. Sorry, but it's true.

So, let me introduce you to one alternative if you're willing to spend a week's salary on a meal.

This photo shows the swiftlet bird creating a nest, the finished product, and a bowl of soup in which it is used.
This photo shows the swiftlet bird creating a nest, the finished product, and a bowl of soup in which it is used.

What is EBN and How Is It Made?

The edible bird's nest (EBN) is created by the fruit-fly eating swiftlet (Aerodramus fuciphagus), a small bird of the swift family found in Southeast Asia. The bird builds its nest—strand by strand—over a period of a month or so using the viscous (thick, sticky) liquid secreted from a gland under its tongue during the breeding period. The nest is then harvested for human consumption.

You may think of it as saliva and many people refer to it as such, but the secretion is only for nest building; it has no known digestive function. Strong composite material is formed when the bird interweaves feathers between the strands of secretions. In the end, the nest must be strong enough to hold the weight of the parent birds and their two nestlings.

EBN Grading

Typically, swiftlets will nest three times a year and undergo molting during the period of July to November. Nests harvested in March will have fewer feathers, creating a higher grade nest. Nests harvested in July usually contain more feathers making the nest a lower grade.

Size, color, and the presence of nitrate (a known carcinogen) are also taken into consideration when determining the grade of a particular nest.

See How Edible Bird's Nest Is Created

EBN Museums

If you are going to visit Singapore, you might want to check out the Swiftlet Garden Museum or the World of BirdNest Museum. In Gelang Patah, Malaysia, you can visit the Glyken Bird Nest Museum.

See How It's Processed

How EBN Is Authenticated

According to ebnsociety.com, the only foolproof method for authenticating EBN is chemical testing that could take up to a week for the results. Those tests are costly and destructive but the society has offered some tips on their website for identifying EBN that has been adulterated or completely fake.

Authenticating Edible Bird's Nest

Raman spectroscopy is a non-destructive method to provide molecular information on a sample of edible bird's nest (EBN) with good sensitivity and specificity.
Raman spectroscopy is a non-destructive method to provide molecular information on a sample of edible bird's nest (EBN) with good sensitivity and specificity. | Source
"Farming" edible bird's nests is becoming popular in Malaysia because of the rising demand from China's growing middle class. Manmade bird houses (buildings) are springing up all over the country
"Farming" edible bird's nests is becoming popular in Malaysia because of the rising demand from China's growing middle class. Manmade bird houses (buildings) are springing up all over the country | Source

If You're Still Interested...

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Mike and Dorothy McKenney

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