Love Nest

Not all nests are cre­ated equal. So just what ex­actly makes for a pre­mium bird’s nest?


It’s a del­i­cacy that many don’t quite com­pre­hend. Af­ter all, where’s the ap­peal in sali­vary ex­cre­tion?

But for many Chi­nese gour­mands, the ed­i­ble bird nests pro­duced by the white-nest swift­let (Aero­damus fu­ci­ph­a­gus) and black-nest swift­let (Aero­damus max­imus) are highly prized.

Bird’s nests are made up of sali­vary ex­cre­tion and feath­ers and im­pu­ri­ties, and the higher the per­cent­age of ex­cre­tion, the bet­ter. Nests pro­duced by white nest swiftlets typ­i­cally boast be­tween 70 to 80 per cent sali­vary ex­cre­tion, which make them very de­sir­able com­pared to those of black nest swiftlets, which only com­prise up to 30 per cent sali­vary ex­cre­tion.

There are two types of bird’s nests—cave nest and house nest. The for­mer is har­vested from lime­stone caves in Thai­land and In­done­sia, a danger­ous en­deav­our that re­quires har­vesters to scale treach­er­ous cave walls. Per­haps this is why cave nests are widely per­ceived to be more ex­clu­sive. Ac­cord­ingly, their prices are much higher than that of house nests.

As the name sug­gests, house nests are pro­duced in swift­let farms, which are housed in build­ings lo­cated in forested ar­eas and spe­cially de­signed to mimic the swift­let’s nat­u­ral habi­tats. These farms use call­ing sounds de­signed to at­tract only white-nest swiftlets, which pro­duce cleaner nests. The birds build their nests in the build­ings but en­ter and leave at will to seek food and water. In­done­sia cur­rently pro­duces ap­prox­i­mately 80 per cent of the world’s sup­ply.

Je­mane Ing, brand guardian of new brand Swift Her­itage—which pur­veys pre­mium ad­di­tive- and preser­va­tive-free bird’s nests— and chef Mok Kit Ke­ung, ex­ec­u­tive chi­nese chef of Shangri-La Ho­tel, Singapore share their ex­per­tise on bird’s nest.

What is the sin­gle big­gest mis­con­cep­tion about bird’s nest?

JI: That cave nests are bet­ter than house nests. Both types of nests come from the same breed of swift­let, and there­fore the nests are both nat­u­rally con­structed. Cave nests came with a price tag due to the dan­ger in­volved dur­ing har­vest­ing. In terms of qual­ity, house nest is much bet­ter as the en­vi­ron­ment is much cleaner.

What are the three most im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tions in as­sess­ing the qual­ity of bird’s nest when pur­chas­ing them?

JI: In gen­eral, size, colour and pu­rity are key when it comes to as­sess­ing qual­ity. Whole nests sell at higher prices. Any bits that have fallen off the whole nests are swept up and sold to buy­ers look­ing for cheaper nests. Good qual­ity nests have a more com­pact con­sis­tency.

Wider and thicker cups also rep­re­sent higher qual­ity. Unique colours like gold or red com­mand higher prices as they are much rarer. Ivory/ cream is an ex­cel­lent stan­dard too.

In the in­dus­try, pu­rity of­ten refers to the clean­li­ness of the bird’s nest. The lesser the feath­ers and im­pu­ri­ties on the nest, the higher the price. The high­est grade would be the purest—that is, 90 per cent ed­i­ble upon har­vest­ing, with very lit­tle clean­ing re­quired.

They have thicker strands and are of­ten ivory, white, gold or blood red in colour. The more you put the nests through the clean­ing process, the more nu­tri­ents are lost.

In­fe­rior nests on the mar­ket are some­times padded with fillers such as bird’s nest crumbs, hasma, tapi­oca and gelatin. Oth­ers cre­ate man-

made bird’s nest out of the crumbs of real nests. The only way to en­sure you are not buy­ing fake nests is to buy from rep­utable sell­ers.

How does qual­ity bird’s nest dif­fer from in­fe­rior ver­sions in taste?

JI: Bird’s nest is taste­less. How­ever, a good in­di­ca­tion of qual­ity is by the tex­ture and den­sity of the cooked nests. The soak­ing test is a good in­di­ca­tor—the bet­ter the qual­ity of the nest, the less time re­quired for it to fully ex­pand. A good qual­ity nest can ex­pand as much as 10 to 12 times from its orig­i­nal dried form.

How long should we soak bird’s nest for—is longer bet­ter?

MKC: I would rec­om­mend soak­ing the bird’s nest for about three to four hours. Bird’s nest will lose its nu­tri­tional value and tex­ture if soaked for too long.

What’s the best way to en­joy bird’s nest for max­i­mum taste and ben­e­fit?

MKC: Af­ter soak­ing the bird’s nest in water for about three hours, check if it turns trans­par­ent. Re­move the por­tion that is not trans­par­ent and soak again. If you are mak­ing a dessert, cook for about 30 min­utes. Add in the bird’s nest only af­ter the dessert is al­most cooked. Do not over­cook the bird’s nest.

What are some no-nos when cook­ing bird’s nest?

MKC: Never mix bird’s nest with oil as it will cause the bird’s nest to lose its water con­tent.

What are the nu­tri­tional ben­e­fits to bird’s nest? JI: Amino acids are the pow­er­house nu­tri­ents in bird’s nest; these are the build­ing blocks of cell re­pro­duc­tion. Among their myr­iad func­tions, the amino acids in bird’s nest such as as­par­tic acid, argi­nine, leucine, pro­line and va­line pro­mote healthy me­tab­o­lism and im­mune func­tion, sup­port mus­cle and tis­sue re­pair, and stim­u­late the pro­duc­tion of growth hor­mones, which con­trib­ute to younger-look­ing skin. Hence, there is bird’s nest’s rep­u­ta­tion as an anti-age­ing elixir.

Bird’s nest is also rich in trace min­er­als, which sup­port es­sen­tial func­tions of the body, such as the pro­duc­tion of en­zymes. The anti-age­ing and health-giv­ing amino acids are best ab­sorbed on an empty stom­ach for max­i­mum ben­e­fit.

How much bird’s nest should one con­sume?

JI: About 3 to 10 grammes of dried nest per day.

Swift Her­itage’s nests are pro­duced ad­di­tive­and preser­va­tive-free. Briefly de­scribe some of the pro­duc­tion pro­cesses un­der­taken to en­sure this with­out com­pro­mis­ing on qual­ity.

JI: Swift Her­itage does not use any chem­i­cals in clean­ing as they can break down the frag­ile proteins and are not healthy. Man­ual clean­ing is an ar­ti­sanal art to­day and a labour-in­ten­sive process. We har­vest our bird’s nests fewer times a year, and only af­ter the swiftlets have aban­doned their nests. This prac­tice of let­ting na­ture take its course means har­vest­ing fully formed nests of high pu­rity dur­ing a safe pe­riod, thus en­sur­ing both qual­ity and eth­i­cal farm­ing.

Swift Her­itage does not pro­duce huge quan­ti­ties. In­stead, we fo­cus on qual­ity. Our com­mit­ment is to en­sure that the nests you con­sume re­tain its orig­i­nal high level of nu­tri­ents. Swift Her­itage nests un­dergo two tests from AgriFood and Vet­eri­nary Author­ity of Singapore (AVA) and TUV. We be­lieve that cus­tomers de­serve to be as­sured that the prod­uct they are pay­ing for is au­then­tic.

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