Bird’s nest soup is one of the most expensive foods on the planet costing as much as $10,000 per kilogram. This delicacy is sort after for its healing mysteries and due to its high price, it is thought to be the caviar of the east. For centuries bird’s nest soup has been considered to have medicinal properties and has been made into soups in China for its healing powers. Bird’s nest soup may sound bazaar to most westerners, but this delicacy is not only one of the most expensive on the planet it also was once eaten by monarchs in China to achieve eternal life.
The Chinese delicacy is actually made from bird’s nests, and however strange that may sound, people will pay thousands to eat this soup. These nests are not made from twigs, they are instead made from saliva by cave-dwelling swiftlets. The nests are made from the swiftlets saliva which has been moulded to make the nest and then dried and hardened. The swiftlets nests are often found high in the roof of caves, these are collected and then sold at high prices to make the soup. The soup is made by softening the nests in a broth to make it gelatinous.
Bird’s nest soup is effectively made from the saliva of swiftlets, this provokes the question of why bird’s nest soup is a delicacy. Bird’s nest soup is thought to have medicinal properties and healing powers, the soup is even thought to bring you eternal life. Despite the fact that not much is known about the science behind the medicinal and healing properties of edible bird’s nests, the swiftlets nests have been made into soup for centuries and is even used as an addition in drinks and cosmetics.
The delicacy has been eaten for around 1,200 years in China. It is believed that the nests have a high nutritional and medicinal value as well as anti-ageing and even anti-cancer properties. This soup is thought to have a whole range of positive affects including the ability to improve concentration and raise libido. Historically the soup was eaten by Chinese Monaches in the hope of gaining eternal life and people still to this day trust the soups anti-ageing powers.
Bird’s nest soup appears to be truly wondrous in its abilities but little research has been done into the biological functions of the delicacy. The medicinal and nutritional properties of the soup could be found in the proteins and the hormones including testosterone. The nests also contain substances which can stimulate cell division and growth. However, not everyone reacts well to edible bird’s nests, for some it causes a life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.
Bird’s nest soup may have wondrous affects, but this controversial delicacy has a price. Aside to the sheer cost of the edible bird’s nests, the delicacy has a darker side. The collection of the bird’s nests is laborious and dangerous and it has an extremely high demand. The swiftlets nests were introduced to China between the years 1368 and 1644 during the T’ang Dynasty according to a professor of biochemistry, Yun-Cheung Kong, at the Chinese University of Hongkong. Since the original introduction of the foreign nests they have been depleted and have imported varieties of the bird’s nests that are in high demand.
The majority of the picking industry for bird nest soup is dangerous and over harvested. In Thailand many of the caves that house swiftlet nests are protected under the government’s environmental conservation plans and anyone who wants to gain access to these caves must pay high fess to be able to harvest the nests in the caves. However, even to be able to physically get into the cave to retrieve the gourmet delicacy faces its own difficulties. Those who take on the task face injury or even death from climbing into the caves and clambering across sheer rock faces barefoot.
Despite the difficulty of retrieving the nests the demand for the delicacy remains high. This has caused the swiftlet nests to become over harvested causing the number of nests to greatly diminish. It is thought that there is only one third of as many nests as there would have been a decade ago, it appears the swiftlets are abandoning their caves because of the harvesting of their nests.
Perhaps the future of the incredibly lucrative business of the delicacy, bird’s nest soup, relies on urban farming as some swiftlets have taken to living the roofs of houses instead of the caves. This is the case in Indonesia, where purpose-built nest factories have been made to house the swiftlets nests for farming. It appears there is still a great demand for this lucrative business due to the nests healing powers and legend of eternal life, but perhaps this delicacy needs to become more sustainable if the industry is going to continue.