Edible bird’s nests are bird nests created by edible-nest swiftlets using solidified saliva, which are harvested for human consumption. They are particularly prized in Chinese culture due to their rarity, and supposedly high nutritional value and exquisite flavor. Edible bird’s nests are among the most expensive animal products consumed by humans, with nests being sold recently at prices up to about US$2,000 per kilogram, depending on grading. The type or grading of bird’s nest depends on the type of bird as well as the diet of the bird. It differs in colour from white to dark brown. The Chinese believe that it promotes good health, especially for the skin. The nests have been used in Chinese cooking for over 400 years, most often as bird’s nest soup.
The most famous use of edible birds nest is bird’s nest soup, a delicacy in Chinese cuisine. When dissolved in water, the birds’ nests have a gelatinous texture used for soup or sweet soup [tàhng suay]. It is mostly referred to as 燕窝 [yàn wō] unless references are made to the savoury or sweet soup in Chinese cuisine. According to the Qing Dynasty manual of gastronomy, the Suiyuan shidan, bird nest was a delicate ingredient that must not be flavoured or cooked with anything strong tasting or oily. As well, while it is incredibly precious, it must also be served in relatively large quantities otherwise its texture cannot be fully experienced and enjoyed.
In addition to their use in soup, edible bird’s nests can be used as an ingredient in many other dishes. They can be cooked with rice to produce bird’s nest congee or bird’s nest boiled rice, or they can be added to egg tarts and other desserts. A bird’s nest jelly can be made by placing the bird’s nest in a ceramic container with minimal water and sugar (or salt) and double steamed. Ready-to-eat bird’s nest jelly is available in jars as a commercial product.