Get your basics right about bird's nest

A recent survey found that 72 per cent of 300 respondents consume bird's nest, but 66 per cent had no idea how its price or quality is determined. -- PHOTO: EU YAN SANG INTERNATIONAL LTD
A recent survey found that 72 per cent of 300 respondents consume bird's nest, but 66 per cent had no idea how its price or quality is determined. -- PHOTO: EU YAN SANG INTERNATIONAL LTD

Despite its high "yuck" factor - after all, it is essentially made of bird spit - bird's nest is a delicacy that is prized by people all over the world.

But local consumers know little about it.

A recent survey found that 72 per cent of 300 respondents consume bird's nest, but 66 per cent had no idea how its price or quality is determined.

Herbalist Ang Lai Chye, a retail supervisor at Eu Yan Sang's Paragon outlet, shares five facts that are sure to make anyone a bona-fide expert about bird's nest:

1. The builders

The bird's nests that we eat are built by three species of swiftlets - white-nest, black-nest and grass-nest - to lay eggs and house their young.

Those made by the white-nest swiftlets are deemed the "cleanest", with 85 to 97 per cent of their nests containing salivary glutinous strands.

The black-nest and grass-nest swiftlets, build nests that are mixed with feathers and plant materials.

2. Types of nests

Nests can be found in caves on cliffs, or in purpose-built houses that simulate their natural habitats - in urban areas, near the sea or even in the jungle.

Both types of nests can be found in Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Cave nests have a crunchy and chewy feel in the mouth, while house nests are softer, smoother and more slippery.

3. Preparation

The swelling capacity of bird's nest depends on the compactness of the salivary strands, as well as its thickness and size.

Raw cave nests may require eight to 12 hours of soaking in water before they can be cooked, compared to about two hours for raw house nests.

4. Blood bird's nest

This isn't the blood-tinged vomit of the swiftlets, as many people may believe. It is actually the result of the absorption of minerals from the cave walls that give the nests the unique reddish colour.

5. Spotting counterfeits

Raw bird's nest that disintegrates easily upon contact with water may contain very little of the real product. Those which turn extremely white upon soaking may have been bleached. Counterfeits will also reek of additives.

The real nests, in contrary, should have a fishy tinge because of the swiftlet's saliva and have the aroma of an egg white after cooking.

joanchew@sph.com.sg

Learn more about bird's nest in the latest issue of Mind Your Body, which comes with The Straits Times every Thursday.