There are many different ways to classify raw bird's nests, and of course with it the price ranges as well. Here, we deep dive into the many different classifications of raw bird's nests and debunk some myths.
House vs Cave Nest
Let's start with the places where raw bird's nests are harvested from. Edible bird’s nests are harvested from either:
1) House Nest
While swiftlets build their nests inside a house in the case of house nests, they are still roam in the wild like other wild animals. The benefits of house nests is that the environment can be controlled better to make it ideal for the swiftlets to build a nest and mate. This results in fewer impurities and feathers in the bird’s nests, while also having a better texture and makes cleaning manually without chemicals possible. Harvesting methods can also be controlled, such as LENE in this case, choosing to harvest sustainably and ethically. To understand more about sustainable and ethical bird's nests, find out more here.
2) Cave Nest
Swiftlets build their nests on rock caves and steep cliffs, usually near the sea. Cave nests are usually stiffer and harder, affected by the climate and environment. Cave nests generally have more foreign materials and feathers than house nests, and also is almost impossible to practice sustainable and ethical harvesting. Most cave nests are also cleaned with chemicals as it is not financially feasible to hand pick these nests due to the impurities in the nests. The unsafe environment of harvesting cave nests also drive up its prices.
Shape of Nest
The shape of bird's nests not only affect the overall look, but also the price of the bird's nests.
1) Whole Cup 燕盏
The priciest shape of them all. Whole bird's nests are usually given as gifts due to its shape, and also used in high end hotels and restaurants. When cooked at home, they are suitable to be cooked as soups. The strands in the bird's nests stay in tact and creates a great texture.
2) Edge 燕角
This is the two ends of the bird's nests that is attached to the wall of the house or cave. The edges usually have a harder texture and will require pre-soaking overnight before cooking.
3) Strips 燕条
When cleaning the whole bird's nests, there are broken pieces that do not make the final cut for the whole cup that is sold. In this case, they are sold as strips. If whole bird's nests are too out of the budget for your personal consumption, strips are a good option.
4) Filaments 燕碎
Filaments are strips that are smaller in pieces. This is the most common type of bird's nests you see in instant bird's nests in the market as they are the cheapest. However, the texture is not as good as the whole bird's nests without the strands. Filaments are not usually given as gifts as well.
5) Cakes 燕饼
Bird's nests cake are the broken pieces of bird’s nests (strips / filaments) that are shaped into different sizes and dried. Usually, those shaped into heart shaped can be sold and given as presents.
Colour of Nests
The colour of nests varies depending on the natural environment that the swiftlets is in, which is affected by the minerals in the environment. Glycoprotein tyrosine in white bird's nests can react with nitrogen-containing vapours to become golden or red bird’s nest containing 3-Nitrotyrosine, based on many research done such as this research by NTU. The nitrite and nitrate in the environment leads white bird's nests changing colours.
1) White Bird's Nests 白燕窝
White bird's nests is the purest of them all, generally suitable for everyone. Genuine white bird's nests is off-white in colour, and bird's nests that are pure white are likely bleached. The antioxidant property of bird’s nest is partly dependent on the tyrosine in glycoprotein. White bird’s nest is a stronger antioxidant compared to golden or red bird's nest due to the higher availability of tyrosine to take up free reactive oxidants.
2) Red Bird's Nests 血燕窝
As mentioned, the nitrite and nitrate in the environment causes white bird's nests to change colour into red bird's nests. Nitrite and nitrate compounds are carcinogenic, which means that they are known to be cancer-causing. These compounds are formed from the bird's nests faeces or droppings in the cave or house, as nitrogen is produced as the the faeces decomposes.
Despite the high prices of red bird's nests, its health benefit is actually contradictory.
3) Golden Bird's Nests 金丝燕
Golden bird's nests goes through the same process as red bird's nests, but with a lower nitrite and nitrate level. Hence, instead of turning completely red, it turns a shade of yellow.
Country of Origin
Edible bird’s nests comes from swiftlets that only originate in Southeast Asia. While it is mainly consumed by Chinese, bird's nests can only be harvested in Southeast Asia as illustrated here. The environment of where the swiftlets are at affects the texture and components of the bird's nests.
Indonesia produces about 70% of the world's supply. Bird's nests are often mass produced in house nests, leading to lower prices. Most cave nests also comes from Indonesia. Texture is smoother, softer and cleaner with fewer impurities as the majority of the nests are harvested from Indonesia’s house nests. Indonesia produces approximately 80% of the world’s supply. Prices are generally lower due to the mass production.
Malaysia is similar to Indonesia as the climate and environment (rich in palm oil production) results in similar kind of bird's nests. It is also the second largest exporter of bird's nests in the world. Most bird's nests are also produced in house nests. Compared to Indonesia where there is mass production, the market tends to be more fragmented with many different artisanal bird's nests. Due to the small production volume from different bird's nests houses, prices tends to be higher than Indonesia.
One of Thailand's main agriculture is rice, and swiftlets feed on the insects in rice fields. Similar to Malaysia, bird's nests houses tends to be smaller in production than mass produced. Most of bird's nests are along seashores and harvested from cave, leading to thicker and firmer nests that require more soaking and cooking time.
Bird's nests are also found in very limited quantities in Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and south China.
Classification by pre-cleaning quality
Raw bird's nests are also classified according to the cleanliness and impurities in it.
1) Premium nests
These nests consist of 95% saliva and 5% feathers, and is considered to be the cleanest of them all. Even though it is 95% saliva, there is still a need to pick out impurities prior to cooking.
For LENE, we use bird's nests that are 98% saliva and can be cooked directly.
2) Feather prime nests
These nests consist of 50% saliva and 50% feathers. Some consumers prefer this as they are able to see that the bird's nests are bleached, and will usually clean the bird's nests themselves by picking them with tweezers.
3) Grass nests
This is the cheapest bird's nests, consisting of only 5% saliva with grass and twigs.
Hopefully, this gives you a much better understanding the next time you look to buy raw bird's nests! As always, feel free to reach out to us if you need any clarifications.
Beauty begins from within,
Your LENE team