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Edible Bird's Nest, Bird's Nest Soup, Bird's Nest Drink: What's the Difference? A Review

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Mazlan has a passion for health and fitness. He enjoys yoga, cycling, home workouts, and healthy food.

What's the difference between edible bird's nest, bird's nest soup, bird's nest drink?

What's the difference between edible bird's nest, bird's nest soup, bird's nest drink?

Why Drink Bird's Nest?

I started drinking edible bird's nest in January 2021 to boost my immune system as it can nourish the lung system and improves respiratory health. It helps and I continue to drink it on a daily basis.

Initially, I was confused with the terms edible bird's nest, bird's nest soup, and bird's nest drink. To add to the confusion, someone told me that it is a Chinese bird's nest. Well, I did my research and that's all cleared up now.

If you have a similar problem, this article will demystify these confusing terms. I will explain their differences and benefits. Since most people buy ready-to-drink bird's nest, I will explain what to look for before you buy this bird's nest drink.

Content

  1. What is 'Edible Bird's Nest'?
    • Swiftlet vs. Swallow Bird's Nest
    • What is a Chinese Bird's Nest?
  2. What is 'Bird’s Nest Soup'?
    • Ingredients in Bird's Nest Soup Recipes
  3. What is 'Bird's Nest Drink'?
  4. What to Look for When You Buy Ready-to-Drink Bird's Nest
    • Buy Only Reputable Brands
    • Fake Bird Nest
    • Bird's Nest Content
    • Sugar Content
    • Sodium Content
    • Cave Bird's Nest or House Bird's Nest
  5. Cave Bird's Nest vs. House Bird's Nest
    • Cave Bird's Nests
    • House Bird's Nests
    • Raw vs. Processed Commercial Edible Bird's Nest
    • Swiftlet Food Source
  6. Comparison of Bird's Nest Nutritional Values
  7. Edible Bird's Nest Benefits
  8. The Downside of Drinking Edible Bird's Nest
  9. Where to Buy
  10. FAQs on Bird's Nest
  11. Wrapping Up
  12. Source and Reference

What is 'Edible Bird's Nest'?

Edible bird's nests are nests of swiftlet birds made by the male swiftlets using their saliva. They are harvested and made into bird's nest soup and drinks, and suitable as savory and sweet dishes. The highly prized ingredient in the bird's nest, sialic acid is also extracted and used in cosmetics.

This swiftlet is also known as “walit” in Indonesian and Malaysian languages. These countries are the top two edible bird's nest producers in the world.

Only the nest of the White-nest swiftlet (Aerodramus fuciphagus) and the Black-nest swiftlet (Aerodramus maximus) are edible. Additionally, bird's nests of White-nest swiftlet have lesser impurities compared to those of Black-nest swiftlets. Hence, breeders of house nest swiftlet will entice only the White-nest swiftlet.

Also, bird's nests of other bird species are not safe for consumption, including the swallow bird's nest.

Swiftlet vs. Swallow Bird's Nest

Very often you see edible bird's nest written as swallow bird's nest in some blog sites or in some of the sales and marketing sites.

For some unknown reasons, swallow bird's nest has a much higher keyword search at 1,900 daily search volume compared to swiftlet bird's nest at 170 daily search volume. How the latter is more searchable is a mystery as the swallow is not the same as the swiftlet and a swallow bird's nest is not edible.

Because of the keyword search popularity, some sites will use the term 'swallow bird's nest' on their sites.

What is 'Chinese Bird's Nest'?

'Chinese Bird's Nest' refers to the same swiftlet's edible bird's nest. This superfood was popularized by the Chinese and is part of their cuisine for generations

For convenience, the western media made references to edible bird's nest as 'Chinese Bird's Nest'.

Edible bird's nest trivia facts

Edible bird's nest trivia facts

What is 'Bird’s Nest Soup'?

While the terms bird's nest soup and bird's nest drink are sometimes used to mean the same thing, they are actually not.

Bird’s nest soups are usually thicker and served as a pre-dinner starter or part of the main course. The bird's nest content is also higher especially if it was for the main course.

Ingredients in Bird's Nest Soup Recipes

Popular ingredients used in some of the bird's nest soup recipes are:

  • Bird's nest cooked with ginger and chicken stock.
  • Minced chicken meat, egg white, cornstarch, and chicken stock all cooked together with edible bird's nest.
  • Bird's nest double-boiled with diced chicken, sweet almonds, bitter almonds, red dates, and ginseng slices.
  • Ginger, unsweetened coconut milk, red date, and bird's nest.
  • Chicken broth, crab meat, dried scallop, bamboo fungus, corn starch, and bird's nest.
  • Bird’s nest in congee.

You must try at least one of the above bird’s nest soup recipes. They are delicious and hearty, even for breakfast.

What is 'Bird's Nest Drink'?

This is the lighter version of bird's nest soup and is prepared with rock sugar. They are ideal as desserts and as drinks. The ready-to-drink bird nest beverages are versions of this bird's nest drink.

Besides the classic rock sugar flavor, there are also sugar-free versions but flavored with sweet fruits such as lychee and dates. They are usually sold in trays of 6 or 12 bottles (8oz each bottle).

Most of the bird's nest drinks are certified halal and are accessible to Muslims.

What to Look for When You Buy Ready-to-Drink Bird's Nest

A busy person will find it a hassle to prepare the raw-whole-piece bird's nest. You have to initially soak them overnight before they can be double-boiled. If you are not used to doing this, you can overcook and spoil their nutrients.

Unless you are on a particular diet or are using a special bird's nest recipe, most people buy the ready-to-drink bird's nests.

There are many companies selling these drinks and in various flavors. In any case, before you buy one of these ready-to-drink bird nests, please be mindful of the following six issues:

1. Buy Only Reputable Brands

I also prefer to buy ready-to-drink bird's nest but only from reputable brands because their high production standards will ensure the elimination of heavy metals, nitrites, excessive minerals, fungi, bird feathers, bacteria, and mites from the raw bird's nest.

2. Fake Bird Nest

Reputable brands will not use 'fake bird's nest' i.e. bird's nests that are adulterated or made entirely of jelly, tremella fungus, karaya gum, pork skin, fish swimming bladder, etc. which can be harmful to your health.

3. Bird's Nest Content

This varies depending on the price. Generally, you should buy the ready-to-drink bird's nest that has at least 28% bird's nest to make it worth buying if you want to enjoy the benefits. The table below summarizes the percentage for some of the popular brands.

4. Sugar Content

Almost all ready-to-drink bird's nests are prepared with rock sugar and their sugar content varies. If you are shopping for low sugar content, 'Kinohimitsu With Red Dates & Wolfberries' has one of the lowest at 3g per 100g serving (see table below).

If you are diabetic, you can buy 'BRAND's Bird's Nest Sugar-Free'. It has no added sugar except for the sweetener Sorbitol and Xylitol.

So, if you are concerned about sugar levels, it is wise to check the package label before buying.

Just so you know, the FDA's daily value for added sugars is 50 grams per day based on a 2,000 calorie daily diet.

Summary of bird's nest content, sugar, and sodium per 100 g serving for some of the popular brands of bird's nest ready to drink

Bird Nest BrandBird Nest ContentSugarSodium

Kinohimitsu Snow Lotus with Honey & Rock Sugar

28%

5.8g

not listed

Kinohimtsu Floral Bird's Nest

18%

7.0g

not listed

Kinohimitsu With Red Dates & Wolfberries

28%

3.0g

not listed

Kinohimitsu Bird's Nest with Collagen

28% (collagen 50mg)

5.2g

not listed

FG Wallet Premium Bird's Nest with Rock Sugar and Extra Collagen

33% (collagen 30%)

5.48g

23.20g

Royal Bird's Nest with Red Date & Chrysanthemum

15% (cave harvested bird's nest)

not listed

2mg

5. Sodium Content

Some people are concerned about the sodium level in their foods. Generally, sodium levels in bird's nests are relatively low. Still, it is wise to check before you buy.

As a guide, FDA lists 35 mg of sodium or less per serving as 'Very Low Sodium' and 140 mg of sodium or less per serving as 'Low Sodium'.

Unfortunately, not many brands list their sodium content on their label. The above table shows some that list it on their packaging.

Royal Bird's Nest with Red Date & Chrysanthemum has a low 2mg and falls under 'Very Low Sodium'. However, FG Wallet Premium Bird's Nest with Rock Sugar and Extra Collagen has 23.2mg of sodium and hence falls under 'Low Sodium'.

6. Cave Bird's Nest or House Bird's Nest

Most of the ready-to-drink bird's nests are made from house bird's nests as it is cheaper. Not many are from cave bird's nests but if you insist, then try 'Royal Bird's Nest with Red Dates and Chrysanthemum'. It claims to use the cave's bird's nest but has only 15% bird's nest content. It is also slightly more expensive.

Cave Bird's Nest vs. House Bird's Nest

Should you buy a cave bird's nest or a house bird's nest? From the explanation below, there's no big gain from using a cave bird's nest. In fact, you will be supporting the environment if you choose a house bird's nest.

Cave Bird's Nests

Cave bird's nests are wild harvested from limestone caves, mountains, and sea cliffs. The natural environment affects the texture which is stiffer and harder but it retains its translucent and gelatinous texture after cooking. However, it has higher impurities and can be exposed to heavy metal contamination from the external environment. So, it takes time to clean and production volume is also low. Hence, it cost more.

House Bird's Nests

House bird's nests are harvested from nesting houses specially built to encourage breeding and nesting of swiftlet birds. The nest has fewer feathers and impurities and is cheaper. It can expand better in water but cannot be boiled for too long as it will turn mushy.

As reported in this study, calcium and sodium are higher in cave bird’s nests. However, from this report, the calcium and sodium can be added to the house bird's nest by precipitating calcium carbonate using a calcium chloride soak and sodium carbonate rinse.

Raw vs. Processed Commercial Edible Bird's Nest

In this study by Norhayati et al., the commercial brands were found to have higher amounts of calcium, magnesium, sodium, phosphorus and potassium compared to unprocessed edible bird's nests. Most of the commercial brands are harvested from nesting homes as they are cheaper.

The same study also indicated that nutrient contents are affected by breeding sites and the availability of food for the swiftlets.

In most cases, owners of nesting homes will ensure a sufficient supply of swiftlet foods to ensure a quality bird's nest.

Swiftlet Food Source

It also reported that swiftlets feed on certain species of insects as their source of food and these are most abundant during the rainy seasons. So, bird's nests harvested during this season are usually big and thick, have fewer impurities, and have higher amounts of protein. They are also expensive.

Hence, a house bird's nest can be just as good as a cave bird's nest and if you choose the former, you can help conserve the dwindling cave swiftlet population.

Comparison of Bird's Nest Nutritional Values

Comparison of edible bird's nest nutrient composition of commercial brands and raw unprocessed samples

Comparison of edible bird's nest nutrient composition of commercial brands and raw unprocessed samples

Edible Bird’s Nest Benefits

There are several studies on the nutritional values and health benefits of edible bird's nests and all rave it as a nutritious meal that benefits people in all age groups.

This study by Rebecca S.Y. Wong, Faculty of Medicine, SEGi University College on 'Edible Bird's Nest: Food or Medicine?' reported that edible bird's nest has multiple bioactive compounds, better antioxidant effects, and the presence of other compounds (such as lactoferrin, sialic acid, ovotransferrin, minerals, and amino acids including essential amino acids, such as lysine, tyrosine, and serin) that synergistically add to edible bird's nest bioactivity.

The study further highlights the following as some of the health benefits:

For Overall HealthFor BeautyAge Specific - Children, Adults, Elderly

Boost immune system and production of antibodies

Promotes formation of collagen and muscle protein

Anti-arthritis, increase bone strength

Restore stamina, relieve fatigue

Anti-aging, prevent wrinkle,

Enhance memory, nerve functions, mental health

Promote gastric health - protect stomach from ulcer and bacterial infection

Promote cell regeneration, growth of red blood cells, removal of toxic substances

Enhance absorption of nutrients, better appetite, stimulate bowel movement

Prevent cold and flu

Improve skin texture

Raise libido

Regulate blood sugar, improve metabolism

Reduce body fat and speed up weight loss

Lower preeclampsia risk, relieves stretch marks, speed up recovery

Main benefits of edible bird's nest

Main benefits of edible bird's nest

Will Harvesting of Bird's Nest Threaten Swiftlet's Population?

One of the biggest concerns is, the constant harvesting of the bird’s nests will threaten the swiftlet's breeding success and hence, a drop in their population.

The swiftlets actually build a new nest in the next mating season and will abandon the old nest from the previous season. This 'abandon nest' is the harvested nest.

In Malaysia, the ongoing preservation of the ecosystem also ensures the natural habitat of the swiftlets is not affected.

The swiftlets build a new nest in the next mating season and 'discard' the old nest. Only this 'old nest' is harvested. Additionally, controlled and seasonal harvesting of cave bird's nests are in place.

The swiftlets build a new nest in the next mating season and 'discard' the old nest. Only this 'old nest' is harvested. Additionally, controlled and seasonal harvesting of cave bird's nests are in place.

Downside of Drinking Edible Bird's Nest

There are not many downsides with regards to consuming edible bird's nests except for:

  • Some people might experience an allergic reaction when taking bird's nests for the first time such as difficulty breathing and throat tightness. So, watch out for these tell-tale signs.
  • Sugar content in certain brands of ready-to-drink bird's nests can be high for some people. So, check the packaging label before buying.

Where to Buy

Depending on the promotions, I usually buy ready-to-drink bird's nests either from Lazada or Shopee as the prices are very competitive. Shipping is also free if you buy from certain sellers.

I have tried several brands but now stick to Kinohimitsu Snow Lotus with Honey & Rock Sugar that has 28% bird's nest content. It also works well for my budget as I drink them every day. A pack of 6 bottles sells for RM34 but if you buy from the retail shop it can be as high as RM46.00.

Once in a while I splurge and buy Kinohimitsu with Red Dates & Wolfberries that sell for RM40 but retail shops sell it at Rm60.00.

If you are outside the East and South-East Asian region, you can buy bird's nest from Amazon.

Some of the ready to drink bird's nest that I have tried including Royal Bird's Nest that claimed to use cave bird's nest

Some of the ready to drink bird's nest that I have tried including Royal Bird's Nest that claimed to use cave bird's nest

FAQs on Bird's Nest

These are some of the common questions asked on edible bird's nest soup and drink, for your reference.

Can I Eat Edible Bird's Nest Every Day?

Yes, you can take it every day as it is good for your overall health. Bird's nest drink is best taken on an empty stomach for better absorption of the nutrients, either in the morning after waking up or in the evening before bedtime.

What Does It Taste Like?

Edible bird's nest taste is flavorless and the texture is like softened gelatin. But the good quality bird's nest tastes like egg white

Can Men Drink Bird's Nest?

Yes, men can consume bird’s nest drinks. If it is taken on a regular basis, there will be:

  • Improvement in their overall health.
  • Better immunity.
  • Can combat fatigue.
  • Better skin complexion.
  • Slow down aging.
  • Lower their bad cholesterol.
  • Strengthen their heart.

What About the Elderly?

One of the biggest issues for the elderly is the lack of appetite and hence, low immunity. If taken regularly, the bird's nest benefits for the elderly are:

  • Improvements in their appetite, digestion, and bowel movement.
  • Glycoproteins in bird's nests can clear phlegm and ease chronic dry coughs, which are common issues with seniors.
  • When these are improved, their sleep quality also improves and they will have better immunity.

What Are the Benefits of Children Drinking Bird's Nest Soup?

  • Children need lots of calcium during the development years for strong bones, teeth, and muscles.
  • They also need Neuraminidase to develop sharp memory and an active brain.
  • The fussy eaters need more nutrients and to be strong from cold and flu.
  • Need to have strong lungs and kidneys.
  • Need to boost their immunity level.

They will get all these if they drink edible bird's nest soup regularly.

Can People with Diabetes Consume Bird's Nest?

Yes, they can but without the added sugar. Leucine, a type of amino acid in a bird's nest, can regulate blood sugar levels. Isoleucine, another amino acid in bird's nests, plays an important role in the rehabilitation process and the formation of hemoglobin and blood clotting.

Can Pregnant Women Drink Bird's Nest Soup?

A pregnant woman can drink bird's nest soup and some of the benefits are:

  • Glycine in bird's nests can reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia, a condition during pregnancy with high blood pressure and protein in the urine.
  • Glycine can also decrease neural tube defects, the two most common are spinal cord defects and brain defects.
  • Tryptophan present in bird's nests can fight depression, help reduce stress, anxiety, and fatigue.
  • Serotonin and Melatonin for the fetus optimal growth for children.

Is Birds Nest Heaty or Cooling?

Bird's nest is neutral as it is neither heaty nor cooling i.e. neither yin nor yang. If you add other ingredients to the bird's nest soup or drink, you can rebalance your qi and treat 'heatiness' or ‘coolness’. Examples of these ingredients to add to your bird's nest recipes are:

Bird's Nest Recipes to Treat Heatiness and Coolness

Ingredients to Add to Bird's Nest to Treat HeatinessIngredients to Add to Bird's Nest to Treat Coolness

Barley & Red Dates

Ginger & Red Dates

Water Chestnut & Chinese Pear

Ginseng

Aloe Vera & Barley

Sea Cucumber & Apricot

Chrysanthemum and Goji Berry

Coconut Meat (white flesh of coconuts)

What is 'Bird's Nest Essence'?

Bird's nest essence is the extracted bioactive component, sialic acid from the bird's nest. Sialic acid is known for brain development, skin beautification, and to boost immunity. It is used as a drink or as a serum in cosmetics.

It is also reported that edible bird’s nest has the highest natural sialic acid content compared to other natural food sources.

A good brand will use a good extraction method to totally isolate and preserve the sialic acid content for efficient absorption by the body.

Why is Chinese Rock Sugar Commonly Used in Bird's Nest Drink?

Rock sugar is formed by allowing a solution of white sugar and water to crystallize. The cooling process produces crystals of higher purity and based on Traditional Chinese Medicine practices, rock sugar can replenish and enrich vital energy especially in the stomach and lungs. In contrast, brown sugar can easily induce heat and white sugar causes phlegm. Hence, Chinese rock sugar is the best choice when preparing edible bird’s nest drinks.

Source and Reference

  1. NCBI by Ran Zhao et al.: The improvement effects of edible bird’s nest on proliferation and activation of B lymphocyte and its antagonistic effects on immunosuppression induced by cyclophosphamide.
  2. NCBI by Queenie Wing Sze Lai et al.: Edible Bird’s Nest, an Asian health food supplement, possesses a moisturizing effect by regulating the expression of filaggrin in skin keratinocytes.
  3. The HEAD Foundation: A Case Study of Edible Bird’s Nest.
  4. ResearchGate by Chye Soi Moi et al.: A Mini-Review on Medicinal Effects of Edible Bird's Nest
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 MazlanA

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