Is Bird's Nest Soup Really Made From Birds' Nests?

A standard bird's nest is usually made with twigs, leaves, and sticks and held together by bird saliva — which doesn't exactly sound appetizing. But if you've ever been to a high-end Chinese restaurant, you might have seen just that on the menu: bird's nest soup. So what's the deal? Is it made with actual nests?

Yes, believe it or not: Bird's nest soup is made with the nest of one specific species of bird, the swiftlet. These edible nests are made entirely of hardened saliva, which is rich in iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. It's a prized delicacy in Chinese cuisine, with the most expensive nests retailing for upward of $10,000 per kilogram. When the dried nests are soaked and steamed in water, they partially dissolve and become gelatinous, and the flavor is reportedly quite good. Bird's nests have been used in Chinese cooking for more than 400 years, and the flavor and supposed health benefits make it a very popular (if expensive) dish, particularly for weddings . It retails for anywhere from $40 to $100 per bowl.