One edible bird’s nest is more prized than all others – the blood bird’s nest.
Also known as red bird’s nests, the origins of their striking color are almost as legendary as the high price they command.
The history of this beautiful bird’s nest goes back thousands of years, and, along the way, there are multiple explanations as to why these normally white nests take a decidedly red turn.
The First Legend: Blood Bird’s Nests Are Made From Blood
The swallows (also known as “swiftlets”) that make edible bird’s nests use their saliva to build the gelatinous strands that create the nest.
Think back to hundreds of years ago, before the average person had access to the kind of scientific information we do today. How would you explain the color of the nests?
Your first instinct may be to attribute the color of this delicacy to actual blood. This is, in fact, one of the explanations of the color of these nests.
The thinking is that female swallows have to build multiple nests over their lifetime to accommodate their young. They work hard to construct these nests strand by strand.
In the course of their labor, their saliva glands are strained and blood starts to seep out.
That blood mixes with saliva and the result is a crimson-colored liquid. In this sense, the blood-stained building material is not very different than someone adding a few drops of food coloring to cement.
The Second Legend: Blood Bird’s Nests Are Made From Lotus Seeds
While the first explanation about why some edible bird’s nests are blood red is a matter of the swallow’s body, the second is a matter of the bird’s diet.
The delicious red bird’s nests you prepare for soup or dessert, some say, is actually the result of what the swallow eats.
One of the bird’s favorite foods in its Southeast Asian habitat is the lotus flower, a common plant with round seeds that, in some cases, have a dark red hue to them.
The swallow snacks on these seeds, and, as they eat them, the color from the seeds is transferred to their mouth, kind of like how a sucker can change the color of a child’s mouth to red, blue, green and more.
The bird’s then fly back to their home to build a nest. As they generate saliva, it mixes with the color from the lotus seeds and creates the blood-colored edible bird’s nests.
The Likely Explanation: Blood Bird’s Nests Are Made by Chemical Reactions
For hundreds of years, the origins of the delicacy that is the red bird’s nest remained the realm of hypothesis and legend.
However, now that the edible bird’s nest industry is a multi-billion-dollar economy, scientists have taken notice and conducted multiple studies about the health benefits of bird’s nests as well as the origins of their colors.
The most recent studies have shown that diet and actual blood don’t have anything to do with the crimson-colored edible bird’s nest.
Research proves that the nests get their color from common chemical reactions that take place in the bird’s habitats.
The edible nests of swallows who live in caves absorb minerals from the limestone walls to which they cling.
Since their caves tend to be saturated with humidity, the water and oxygen in the air mix with the minerals from the rocks and form a sort of “rust” that gives the nest its dazzling color.
Other studies have explored the idea of the nests gaining their color by way of chemical reactions involving sodium nitrate derived from a mix of the bird’s droppings, urine and other environmental materials.
This theory explains why red nests can be harvested from nest farms where limestone is not present.
How to Avoid Fakes and Where to Buy Blood Bird’s Nests
Because red bird’s nests can demand such a high price, thousands of fake red nests have hit the market. A few years ago, the fakes became such a problem that China banned red-nest imports from certain countries.
The criminals behind these nests use red-tinted sodium nitrate to color the nests. While they may look authentic in the box, these nests’ red color tends to bleed when you soak them before cooking.
The best way to avoid fakes is to buy from a reputable company like Golden Nest. Our quality-control process ensures that every red bird’s nest you get is authentic and made by natural processes free of dangerous chemicals used in excess by criminals.
You can view our wide selection of red nests at our edible bird’s nest online store.