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Understanding the different types and colours of Chinese Bird’s Nest

Understanding the different types and colours of Chinese Bird’s Nest

Also known as Caviar of the East, Chinese bird’s nest is a highly sought-after delicacy. In the past, this precious tonic was served to royalty due to the belief that it provides various health benefits. This article will teach you about the different types and colours of Chinese bird’s nest.

Formation of Chinese bird’s nest

Bird’s nest is formed by the saliva of swiftlets (a type of bird). The edible Chinese bird’s nests which are harvested for human consumption only come from swiftlet birds and not any other types of birds. They are usually found in Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines.

Cave Nest and House Nest

There are two types of Chinese bird’s nest: Cave nest and House nest.

1. Cave nest

As the name suggests, cave swiftlet nests are made by swiftlets found in natural caves, usually near a sea. Harvesters face treacherous conditions as they forage through the islets and caves in search of the bird’s nest. Due to the difficulty in obtaining them and its rarity, these have resulted in the high price of edible bird’s nest.

2. House nest

The second type of bird’s nest is the house swiftlet nest, resides in man-made buildings. These may include old shophouses or even concrete blocks, built specially to house the swiftlets.

Comparing the two types of Chinese bird’s nest

There are a few notable differences between cave nests and house nests. Firstly, is there appearance. Take a looking at the following images of raw cave and house bird’s nests.

House Chinese Bird's nest
House bird’s nest
Cave Chinese bird's nest
Cave bird’s nest

As seen above, the strands of cave nest are thicker than that of house nests.

Another difference is the textures when consuming them. Cave swiftlet nests are more chewy while house swiftlet nests are softer and more silky. It is difficult to say which type of nest tastes better, as it is based on individual preference.

Colour variations of Chinese bird’s nest

The beauty of nature manifests in the array of species in the wild that comes in different shapes, sizes and colour. As the formation of bird’s nest is a natural occurrence, it comes in different variations as well.

One noticeable variation is the colour. The most commonly consumed bird’s nest is white in colour. However, there is also gold and even red bird’s nest. These nests are called jin si yan 金丝燕 and xue yan 血燕 respectively. Take a look at the following pictures.

Different colours of Chinese bird's nest, including golden and blood nest

The colour variants were a mystery for centuries. In the past, many people thought that the colouring was actually due to the blood of the swiftlets. However, contrary to what was a popular belief in the past, this is actually not what gives the nests its special colour. Instead, the colours of the bird’s nest arise out of environmental factors.

This gold and red colouring is the result of nitration of the minerals found in the swiftlet’s diet and the protein structures of the nest. The gold and red colours represent the different stages or levels of nitration, where the more red the bird’s nest is, the higher the level of nitration.

More medicinal properties?

Another belief is that the coloured Chinese bird’s nest nests contain more medicinal properties. However, there is a lack of studies to prove this. Nevertheless, the prices of coloured bird’s nest remain higher than the normal white bird’s nest due to the rarity and aesthetic appeal of the coloured nests.

Be careful!

Because of the higher price of coloured Chinese bird’s nest, some unscrupulous suppliers have sought ways to artificially alter the colour of white bird’s nest into red in order to make more profits from selling them as red bird’s nest. Such methods may make use of toxic chemicals which may be hazardous! Hence, consumers should be wary especially when purchasing coloured bird’s nest and should only purchase from reputable sources.


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