The Emperors’ Superfood: Bird’s Nest

Bird's Nest has been a Chinese health staple for many years.
Bird's Nest has been a Chinese health staple for many years.

Bird's Nest has often been referred to as the Chinese Fountain of Youth, or even Elixir of Life, having been the staple health food of choice for dynasties of Chinese emperors have been enjoying this thanks to its anti-aging and health-giving properties. Made from the hardened saliva nests of swiftlets, bird's nests is nowadays a premium delicacy in Chinese cuisine, generally used in a variety of porridges, jellies and soups. Research have since been shown to support its reputation as a veritable superfood: bird’s nests contain vital amino acids, which contribute to the production of growth hormones associated with younger-looking skin, and promote healthy metabolism.

While its price might hardly be a deterrence, it is the painstaking methods of preparing birds nest discourage consumers to indulging in this superfood. Feathers, twigs and other debris can get stuck in the bird’s nest, and have to be meticulously picked out before drying and cooking. Up until recently, bird's nests were dried during the cooler hours after dawn and before dusk in a drawn-out drying process that could take up to three days. Bird’s nests are also brittle once dried, making them easy to break apart into unsatisfactory bits.

Swift Heritage Bird's Nest

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Swift Heritage's Premium Bird's Nest

Swift Heritage’s Bird Nests have a way through these inconveniences. They practice ethical harvesting, where their bird’s nests are picked fewer times in one year than industry standard, allowing swiftlets time to fully form their nests. Only once the swiftlets have completed their nesting cycle and left their nests are the fully formed bird's nests retrieved. This is not only ecologically beneficial but also results in healthier nests in the next harvest because the swiftlets are not stressed to make new nests halfway through nesting. This might result in a drastically reduced yield of bird's nest, but the quality of these intact nests more than make up for it. 

Swift Heritage also makes it a point to harvest only pristine nests that have not been dirtied or damaged during the nesting process. Sections of lower quality brown or dirtied nests are discarded. This removes the need for any form of bleaching or chemical treatment to artificially whiten the bird's nests later. While this further decreases the possible yield of bird's nest, it shows Swift Heritage's commitment to producing an authentic product that is free from any additives or chemicals.

Swift Heritage has also undergone tests with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and TÜV SÜD PSB, a global testing, certification, inspection and training provider, to ensure authenticity of their product; both AVA and TÜV tests also reveal high levels of amino acids in Swift Heritage's bird's nest.

To aid with food preparation, Swift Heritage cleans their nests beforehand with pure water only. Drying today is done in a controlled environment where foreign substances cannot contaminate the nests - a huge improvement from drying techniques from yesteryear. Most importantly, they do not use any gels or other substances to help dry the bird’s nests or increase their dry mass. As a result, its bird’s nests require only 40min of soaking to soften and 30min in a double boiler for cooking. In a way, they epitomise the modern, healthy take on traditional Chinese cuisine: organic, additive-free and simple to prepare.

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Swift Heritage is known for their whole organic Bird's Nests.

As such, many chefs prize Swift Heritage Bird's Nest for its integrity - in both senses of the word: the way the bird's nest stays intact and firm in the packaging and during preparation, and in their commitment to producing an authentic product.

Currently, Swift Heritage bird’s nests are on sale through their website and at Como Marketplace. One can also savour Swift Heritage bird’s nests served as gourmet dishes at Shang Palace in Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore.