From drool and poo!

Processed bird's nests presented for sale

IF the thought of eating animal saliva or waste disgusts you, then you should know that there are people who will pay significant sums of money to savour delicacies that are in fact, animal spit and shit. Today such dubious delicacies are amongst the most expensive animal products consumed by humans!

For centuries, the Chinese have downed a little bird’s gel-like saliva for health. The swift makes its nest with saliva, weaving strands of gummy gel that harden when exposed to air.

Such bird’s nests are harvested from cave walls in hazardously steep cliffs, cleaned and sold at high prices. While the Chinese claim that bird’s nest contains plenty of health-promoting qualities and rejuvenating effects, modern science has revealed that it’s rich in nutrients that are traditionally believed to provide health benefits and an overall boost to the immune system.

Today it is popular as a health-giving tonic to aid digestion, improve the voice, cure asthma and increase concentration. This exotic dish is also reputed to be an aphrodisiac!

As with most delicacies, bird’s nest soup is an acquired taste. When dissolved in water, bird’s nest looks like slimy strands of soft jelly and tastes quite rubbery. You can enjoy it either as a savoury soup in chicken broth or as tong sui, a dessert with rock sugar.

If your pocket does not allow you to indulge in this pricey potion, there is an inexpensive but equally exotic alternative – snow frog glands. Usually served as a tong sui, these opaque pellets of gel known as shueet kap, are said to have similar rejuvenating properties.

Hundreds of years ago, explorers in Indonesia discovered a special brew of coffee. Like bird’s nest, the challenge of harvesting it and the short supply of Kopi Luwak has driven its price sky-high. Sold for up to US$600 per lb, Kopi Luwak is the most expensive coffee in the world.  These special coffee beans have gone through a most unique process, more explicitly, they have passed through the digestive system of a palm civet cat. So this cat’s droppings are actually worth its weight in gold!

Luwak is a tree-dwelling cat that feeds on the ripest and reddest coffee beans – those best for brewing. It only eats the bean’s outer covering in a natural de-pulping process and swallows the bean whole. The beans are passed out virtually intact and people harvest these droppings that are partially digested and fermented in the cat’s stomach. Coffee connoisseurs claim that this process is what gives the coffee its unique taste and aroma!

So who would have thought that the world’s most unusual coffee is brewed from cat’s poo and the invigorating bird’s nest is actually bird’s drool?  Would you pay up to RM360 for a bowl of bird’s nest soup or RM150 for a cup of Kopi Luwak? There are people who would. How bizarre!

This article was first published in The New Straits Times, Travel Times on 13 March 2007

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