Singaporeans' love for bird's nest delicacy looks evident when you discover so many places selling it in the city. Then, the presence of Swiftlet Garden Museum in the Kranji Countryside is another reflection of the fascination with the superfood that belongs to Swiftlet. Swiftlets are essentially South-East Asian birds, which make nests with their saliva. When you visit the rural tourist attraction, you will get to learn everything about these small birds and the techniques used in making these bird's nests. Anyway, also referred to as “Caviar of the East" or medicinal food, the edible bird's nest has been an object of mysteries for humans across the world despite being a regular diet for years.
And what distinguishes it from other delicacies is the fact that it doesn't have any taste, yet people are crazy about it. One reason for this could be its purported health benefits. But then there are other superfoods also, and still, they don't enjoy the same attention like this. That's why perhaps even stores also cash on this madness for the food by making it easily accessible for their consumers in the form of bottled drinks. A readymade bird nest drink eliminates all the efforts that you have to put in preparing a dish from the main ingredient. And if you buy it from a trusted store, you don’t need to get into a tizzy about its quality and nutrients.
The seller makes sure that you get to enjoy the wholesome goodness of this food in the comfort of your home hassle-free. Nevertheless, many aspects of it still appear as a mystery to even those who consume it regularly. So, let's take a quick detour to them and unveil a few fascinating stories.
Decoding bird’s nest: The main ingredient in bird nest drink
As you know by now, swiftlet birds build the edible bird’s nest. Unlike twigs and straws, the male birds use their saliva in this. Those who farm these birds harvest the nests for commercial purposes. They sell it in the market either as in the form of the nest or prepared drink or soup without risking its nutritional value and smell. These edible nests are most coveted because they contain glycoprotein, amino acid, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and antioxidants.
It can be surprising for you to know that this unusual food has many different stories about its discovery and popularity. For instance, in China, people make it for their in-laws and business partners to impress them. Then, if you dig into its history, you will realize that it was earlier called Swallow Nest. Some people believe that a bird's nest made its first entry during the Tang Dynasty, about over 1,500 years. The Chinese Traditional Medicine Book also talks about it, among other healthy foods.
There is a belief that Chinese leaders of the Ching Dynasty, including Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi and Emperor Qian Long, ate bird’s nest drink daily. Then the Tang Dynasty family and court officials also had it. That probably explains why this food is expensive even today because it has been part of the royal families' diet. Anyway, whether you look at Ming or Ching dynasties, you will find they all have been eating this one of the four tonic foods.
An interesting story about the introduction of a bird's nest in the emperor's diet
The book “The Emperor and the Cook: The Story of Bird’s Nest Soup" says that once when the Royal Cook was unable to decide what exotic dish he should make for the food-loving Emperor, he went out on a walk to the harbor to see what he could do. He needed to find something different because the exasperated Emperor had announced that the Royal cook would not only lose his position but life also on failing to come up with a unique dish. When he was walking, he came across a merchant selling a bird’s nest from Borneo.
The merchant informed the cook about its youthful properties. The cook took it, wondering what he could make out of it. A true professional that he was, he made bird's nest soup. Since the Emperor had a natural inclination towards Feng Shui and a long life, the Royal Cook kept the soup in the middle with dragon and phoenix on either side of it while serving. When the Emperor asked the cook what he's got for him, he said longevity soup. It got the Emperor very excited, and he tasted the sweet-smelling aromatic bird nest drink. But the Emperor found it to be ordinary even after drinking it again and again on the cook’s request.
Finally, the Royal cook got an idea and told the Emperor that people in Borneo eat this soup for a long life, health, and youth. It also brings prosperity. He mentioned all the benefits associated with it. After hearing him, the Emperor also got convinced about its exoticism and relished it. He also rewarded the Royal Cook and ordered him to serve it daily.
However, there is another surprising and shocking thread in the same story. The cook never revealed it to the Emperor that the raw ingredient used in the soup was bird's nest, and to ensure its secrecy, the cook ensured everyone who got it from Borneo faced death or killing. Every time a new team of people went to bring the nests.
The Emperor had a long and prosperous life. The bird's nest soup became a Royal dish that only nobilities and wealthy merchants could eat and not the general public.
Is there scientific evidence supporting the intended health benefits of a bird's nest?
As it seems, the health benefits of a bird's nest are difficult to challenge. Some research reports, mainly from Malaysia and Singapore, show that the nests are rich in nutrients. But these don't elicit anything about its long-term advantages for physical health as such. In essence, you don't have to doubt its nutritional properties, at least. However, you can hear some negative things about its cultivation process. For instance, there can be a risk of disease among farmed swiftlets that farmers keep in single houses. For reasons like this, you may want to be careful about where you buy your drink.
The price of a bird's nest and bird nest drink and how to consume it
This exotic delicacy is not cheap. As per some, you need to pay up to $35 for one bowl of bird's nest soup for one person, and if you order for sharing, it can touch about $130. However, it can feel a bit cost-effective if you buy a ready-to-drink bird's nest bottle from a well-known online store. A 180ml bottle may be available for $60. Those who buy bird's nest to cook it themselves may have to pay $800 for 50gm.
It may make you ask why this delicacy is so expensive. Well, you obtain a jelly-like substance from soaking Swiftlet's nest in water. These birds weave nests only three times in a year on cave walls or cliffs where they take care of their young. And you use this same nest in your soup and other dishes. That’s why the prices tend to be on a higher side.
As far as consumption goes, people think that you need to eat this delicacy for a long time to enjoy its health benefits. However, it doesn't mean you should have it as much as possible. Moderation is the key. It would be best if you took it once a day so that your body can digest all the nutrients it has to offer. Those who look at it as a tonic feel that you should consume it on an empty stomach in the morning. It will help your system to absorb nutrients well. Further, if you consume its drink, make sure the quantity is about 60 to 80 ml a day.
Some final thoughts on buying a bird nest drink
Bird's nest is so famous across the globe that some people have started misusing the public's trust by selling counterfeit products in different forms. So, make sure to conduct some background check on the seller just like you do before you spend money on a product of your choice. Learn about the supplier thoroughly to ensure he or she is trustworthy. Don't be fooled by a lower price. If someone gives it to you at a very cheap rate, then you must doubt its credibility. The product is either fake or uses an insignificant amount of real bird’s nest that cannot guarantee you supposed health benefits even after consuming it for an extended period.
Since it can be difficult for you to notice this factor immediately, you can read customer reviews and ratings of the store for an idea. If the ratings are higher than four stars, you can pick it without any second thought. Along with that, if possible, check from where the supplier gets the product and whether he or she follows ethical harvesting and hygiene standards. Those who are authentic will indulge in traditional practices of hand-cleaning, testing, boiling, and cooking.