Would You Eat a Bird’s Nest?
You may have included nesting boxes in your garden and you might be lucky enough to have birds nesting in your trees and bushes. But you probably haven’t considered eating the nests! It might be a different story if you lived in the Far East and your property was hosting swiftlets.
These tiny birds make their nests using their own spit and this edible material is a costly delicacy. Traders charge $2,000 per viss (roughly 1.63kg)! That is more than the average annual wage in Myanmar where traders are making their fortunes by cashing in on the demand for the nests in China.
The nests are so lucrative that buildings dedicated to the swiftlets have been springing up in southern Myanmar. The swiftlets’ nests were originally collected by daring cliff climbers who scaled treacherous cliffs without equipment to grab the nesting material. But the new buildings have been constructed to ensure that the nests are far more accessible. The industry has caused bird nest producers to compete with the tourism industry for land and this has resulted in the price of land rising dramatically. There are now 130 buildings devoted to the swiftlets in the region.
The nests are harvested three or four times each year but can be collected more often if the producers are in need of funds. It is believed that the industry will continue to grow in the coming years as the swiftlet populations should increase as the birds become more used to their new nesting sites.
Popular in China
The nests were once the preserve of the wealthy in China but are becoming popular with middle class consumers. The industry is thought to be worth an incredible $5 billion a year. The nests are known as the "caviar of the East" and are one of the most expensive foods on the planet. When boiled in water they dissolve into a jelly-like substance which is then used to create desserts and soups together with tonics which are said to prolong life and promote strength.
The Science behind the Bird Nests
There is little scientific evidence to back up the idea that the nests have medicinal properties. The saliva from which they are formed is mainly protein and carbohydrate. But Chinese diners will pay hundreds of dollars for a bowl of birds’ nest soup. The delicacy is particularly popular with women who believe that it helps them to look younger.
The birds’ nest tonics are used during pregnancy and have been popular for centuries. The Chinese also believe that they promote improved health in the elderly. There is no sign of a demand for the material in the west. But you never know!