Eating swiftlet bird saliva

Just the thought of eating soup made from bird saliva gives me the shivers. However, there is a history behind this Southeast Asian delicacy and there may be health benefits but also some degree of danger for a few people.

Myth has it that The Chinese have been eating this saliva for 1,500 years since the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). But another myth says China’s most famous eunuch, Admiral Zheng Hi, brought these nests made from bird saliva back to China in the 15th century.

What we do know for sure is that the Chinese have been making soup from imported swiftlet nests from Southeast Asia for centuries.

A Review of Scientific Research on Edible Bird’s Nest from the 1990s of a few comprehensive scientific studies in Asia and China revealed that this particular bird saliva appears to play a crucial role in major normal cellular processes and may help resist the effects of aging.

However, the Malaysian Society of Allergy and Immunology reported that for a few people there is a major risk of an allergic reaction after eating Bird’s Nest Soup and death could occur.

To be fair to the birds and their saliva, eating peanuts and getting flu shots may also end in allergic reactions with severe symptoms that may lead to death—for a few.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

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17 Responses to Eating swiftlet bird saliva

  1. As a vegan, you would eat cricket? Interesting.

  2. I think insect anything is going to be a really hard sell in the western world. We just don’t “do” bugs. Other cultures are more sanguine on the subject, but we can’t even let go of gasoline. Somehow, I can see crickets making inroads.

    • I think this cricket bar might be a niche market. I don’t see it going mainstream, but it doesn’t take that many customers to support a business. There are 316 million people in the United States, and I can think of one segment that might have no problems with these protein bars: almost 19 million Asian Americans and nut cases like me.

  3. Bobby says:


    • I wonder. What’s the difference between bird saliva and cow’s milk? I mean, humans weren’t born to drink cow’s milk. Calves are born to drink cow’s milk just like humans were designed to drink their mother’s milk.

      • I always thought the old testament writers were being sensible when they made locusts kosher. When there are a lot of locusts, there isn’t much else, right? So crickets, locusts, grasshoppers are all kosher. No other insects (and anyway, who want to eat spiders other than Renfield? And that was only because Dracula made him do it.) and the rest of kosher is a pain in the butt, but at least during plague time, it’s okay to eat locusts. Practical.

      • I don’t know what’s happening. I replied three times and my reply isn’t appearing.

        Anyway, to make a long process shorter since I’ve already done it twice and this is my third time, have you heard of Exo?

  4. Charles says:


  5. Michael Brant says:

    Yay, Vegan! No, insects not OK.

    • Too late.

      If you use ketchup, you’re eating insects. And that ain’t all. They’re even in the coffee we drink. When I served in Vietnam, there were so many in the fresh baked bread made at some division bakery, that we smeared peanut butter to hide them from sight. Read how many are in peanut butter. And we may not have a choice with the human population still exploding. At some point, there won’t be enough food from crops and animals.

      How many insects did you have for breakfast this morning? The answer may surprise you! Despite advances in pest control technology, it is still not possible to exclude all insects from our food supply. Most agricultural products are already contaminated with insects (or insect products) when they are harvested, and still more gain access during storage.

      The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has adopted Grade Standards designed to protect American consumers from inferior agricultural products. The standards set legal limits for spoilage or contamination due to insects and other agents. The highest grade is “U.S. No. 1”.

      In order to qualify as U.S. No. 1 Grade, the commodities listed below cannot exceed the following limits of contamination:

      Ketchup — 30 fruit fly eggs per 100 grams
      Canned corn — 2 insect larvae per 100 grams
      Blueberries — 2 maggots per 100 berries
      Peanut butter — 50 insect fragments per 100 grams
      Curry powder — 100 insect fragments per 100 grams
      Wheat — 1% of grains infested
      Sesame seed — 5% of seeds infested
      Coffee — 10% of beans infested

      Have some more ketchup with your fries!

  6. I’m horribly allergic to duck in all forms … which makes Chinese food a bit of a mine field. I was just curious. I love all kinds of Asian food, but we live in the boonies, so I don’t get the opportunity to eat it very often any more.

  7. I always wanted to try it. Is it good?

    • When in Shanghai, I’ve watched my wife eat similar food, like duck blood soup, that she eats with gusto. I haven’t seen her eat bird’s nest soup but I’m sure she has. I’ve been a vegan since the early 1980s and maybe that has something to do with it. After all, bird saliva is an animal product. :o) Good excuse, huh?

      I wonder if insects are okay for a vegan diet?

      There is a new product coming out made from cricket flour that I might try if these start-up company survives.

      “Bitty’s mission is simple: We make delicious foods with cricket flour. Cricket flour is a tasty source of sustainable nutrition, packed with protein, healthy fats and micronutrients. We start with sustainably raised crickets, which are slow roasted to bring out their nutty, toasted flavor. Then we mill them into a fine flour that becomes the basis of our delicious, high-protein baked goods and baking mixes.

      “All our products are free of grains and processed sugar, and are made with coconut oil rather than dairy products. Best of all, they taste terrific. When you’re starting with an ingredient as good as cricket flour, why would you add any of the “bad” stuff?

      “Crickets are also one of the most sustainable forms of protein on the planet. Last May, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization published an incredible report concluding that edible insects may be the key to stabilizing the global food supply.

      “According to the UN, if edible insects become a part of the mainstream global diet, we can reduce greenhouse gases by 18%, and lower the average cost of food globally by 33%. Check out Bitty founder Megan Miller’s TED Talk to learn more about the benefits of cricket flour.”

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