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Fake edible bird’s nests flood Vietnamese market

Fake edible bird’s nests flood Vietnamese market

Monday, May 02, 2022, 17:00 GMT+7
Fake edible bird’s nests flood Vietnamese market
Consumers are confused by a wide range of bird’s nests promoted on social media. Photo: Tu Trung / Tuoi Tre

Given a rise in demand for immune-boosting products amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a wide selection of edible bird’s nests are available for sale on the local market, including many with unclear origin yet inflated prices.

Consumers should inspect bird’s nests thoroughly before deciding to buy this delicacy, especially imported bird’s nests and those with dodgy product information.

Shopping without knowing product origin

Nguyen Thi Thuy, residing in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, said her family rarely consumed edible bird’s nests, but the pandemic prompted her to impulsively buy 100 grams of bird’s nest in hopes that it could help them build better protection against the coronavirus.

“Bird’s nests offered by popular agents are priced at over VND5 million [US$218] per 100 grams," she said.

"I searched for bird’s nests from sellers active on Facebook who demand VND3.5 million [$133], VND2.8 million [$122], or even VND600,000 [$26] per 100 grams.

“The sellers offer higher prices than before, nudging customers into buying the nests ‘while the supplies last.'" 

Similarly, Do Long, a resident of Thu Duc City in Ho Chi Minh City, said he usually buys bird’s nests at VND3 million ($131) per 100 grams, but he bought the nests at up to VND3.5 million ($152) per 100 grams a couple of weeks ago.

A owner of a bird’s nest house in central Ninh Thuan Province harvests bird’s nests to serve a rising number of retailing customers. Photo: X.M. / Tuoi Tre

An owner of a bird’s nest house in Ninh Thuan Province, south-central Vietnam harvests bird’s nests to serve a rising number of customers. Photo: X.M. / Tuoi Tre

Given numerous types of bird’s nests on the local market, he bought the product by his own faith as he knew no competent agencies or associations certified the quality of the nests.

Bird’s nest stores have sprouted up everywhere and gone online as well.

Busy transactions are taking place in the 'Cho Yen Sao Toan Quoc' (Nationwide Bird’s Nest Market) Facebook group.

Bottled bird’s nests sell for VND70,000-180,000 ($3-8) per 70-200ml or broken bird’s nests at VND15 million ($653) per kilogram.

As revealed by Nguyen Dang Ly, owner of Ong Giao Ly, a bird’s nest business in south-central Ninh Thuan Province with 10-year experience in the field, the prices of feathered bird’s nests were VND2.2-2.5 million ($95.5-108.5) per 100 grams and then rose to VND2.8 million ($121) during the pandemic but there was a limited stock.

Refined bird’s nests fetch VND3.5 million ($152) per 100 grams.

Another bird’s nest business owner with nearly 20 years of experience in the outlying district of Can Gio, Ho Chi Minh City, affirmed that eatable bird’s nests offered at below VND1 million ($43.5) per 100 grams are all fake.

Quality chaos

“The pandemic has fueled the demand for immune-boosting products, thereby bird’s nests are selling like hot cakes,” Ly said, adding that his products are competing with fake, substandard nests.

A screenshot of two boxes of low-cost bird’s nests for sale on a social media platform.

A screenshot of two boxes of low-cost bird’s nests for sale on a social media platform

Besides, there are even adulterated bird’s nests on the local market, he continued.

Ho Ngoc Tuan, an expert, said low-cost bottled bird’s nests are often not Vietnamese bird’s nests.

“The global prices of bird’s nests are VND250-400 million [$10,824-17,347] per kilogram, tenfold the rates in Vietnam. Bottled bird’s nests usually come from Malaysia, Indonesia, or Thailand," Tuan said.

“Budget imported bird’s nests are broken and of low quality. As for high-quality ones, they are exported at extremely high prices."

The expert from the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho also revealed many tricks in making bird’s nests, especially sugar refined bird’s nests to increase net weight and oil refined bird’s nests to reduce labor costs.

An owner of a bird’s nest business who declined to be named said it is not difficult to make fake bird’s nests.

Some fake nests are made of agar and similar substances. These substances do not pose a health risk as agar is a normal food, but the bird’s nest is fake, he elaborated.

Bird’s nest industry needs supervision

To cope with obstacles facing consumers who seek quality bird’s nests at reasonable prices, Ly of Ong Giao Ly suggested authorities should take action while relevant associations raise their voice to protect the local bird’s nest industry.

Nguyen Duc Thanh, who once operated a bird’s nest business, recommended that Vietnam learn from South Korea’s experience with ginseng.

The East Asian country has prestigious trade associations and agencies in charge of testing and certifying quality ginseng products.

Therefore, consumers have a tool to realize genuine products and will not risk losing their money on the fakes, and this will pave the way for encouraging the growth of the bird’s nest industry.

Tuan said current mechanisms have yet to address the issue in the long run.

Consumers can now only visit authorized agents or houses of bird’s nests to lower the risk of buying fake, substandard products, Tuan added.

More stringent measures needed to tackle fake bird’s nests

According to Nguyen Thanh Hai, general director of Khanh Hoa Bird’s Nest Company, the growing demand for immune-boosters has brought about a brighter outlook for the local bird’s nest market, resulting in a rising number of bird’s nest household businesses and manufacturing facilities.

However, the market has witnessed numerous bird’s nests without clear origin and labeling, adding that they are offered at various prices that confuse consumers.

“We discovered some bird’s nest businesses use the brand and images of the Khanh Hoa Bird’s Nest Company for their products without our permission," Hai said.

“Therefore, we hope that market surveillance agencies, the Vietnam Competition and Consumer Authority, and other elevant agencies will ramp up efforts to tackle counterfeit, substandard goods and those of unknown origin to protect the reputation of authentic Vietnamese bird’s nests.”

Consumers in need of bird’s nests should opt for reputable brands and products with proper label, packaging, and clear origin.

Some basic ways to tell difference between authentic and fake bird’s nests

Nguyen Dang Ly shares his basic tips to differentiate between a genuine bird’s nest and a fake:

- By eyes: The structure of edible bird’s nests resembles a hammock consisting of tightly woven threads, thereby seeing tiny feathers in a nest is completely normal. It is impossible to manually remove all feathers from a nest.

- By nose: A real bird’s nest has a little fishy smell as it is made from the saliva of swiftlets. A genuine bird’s nest will have a light musty smell of wood, as most of the bird’s nests are now farmed in houses. 

- By hand: After soaking a nest fiber in water, use one's hands to pull it apart. When a low-elastic nest fiber breaks right after it is pulled, this could be a fake bird’s nest.

- Burning a bird’s nest: A fake bird’s nest will have a plastic smell after being burnt.

- Cooking: Fake bird’s nests will not have a pleasant protein taste when being cooked.

- Soaking: Place a bird’s nest in a bowl and add some water. The bird’s nest is authentic if the water remains clear. If the water turns cloudy, that bird’s nest is bogus as the nest was already adulterated with some substances to increase its weight.

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Minh Duy - Xuan Minh / Tuoi Tre News


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